Neil Tambe

Let’s go.

I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

Good Deeds vs. Good Decisions

I used to think that the key to being a good person was doing good deeds. If that's true, I thought, the hard part is just figuring out the comprehensive list of good deeds and working hard to do them. Simple enough.

What I've been thinking lately is that every conscious or unconscious decision I make ends up leading to an action. And just about all those decisions and all those actions (from how long I spend in the shower to whether I choose to run a red light, or how I choose to talk with Robyn, and on and on) has some sort of moral consequence.

If that's true, no list of good deeds or virtuous qualities is ever enough to cover all bases. Every moment of my life has a moral consequence, there's no list long enough to adequately inform all those moments.

Instead, if every moment of my life has a moral consequence, the key to being a good person is not to focus on doing good deeds. Rather, the key is to focus on making good decisions all the time. By that I don't mean effective decisions or high-utility decisions, I mean decisions that reflect goodness.

The problem is, most decisions I make in a day are not intentional. They are products of convictions, habits, and reflex. So the way I figure it now, I have to shape my convictions, habits, and reflexes in such a way that my decisions (both conscious and unconscious) reflect goodness during every moment of the day.

Here's the big shift. When pursuing good deeds the fundamental question is "what are all the things a good person does?". When pursuing good decisions the fundamental question is "how do I become a better person every day?".

Both are hard, for different reasons. I've abandoned good deeds as an anchor in favor of good decisions because I really believe that every moment has moral consequences. And, I don't think significant good deeds make up for being a selfish jerk between innings, so to speak.

And as a father, I know with 100% certainty our kids are going to become good people based on the choices they see me making day in and day out, not based on the significant and hopefully good deeds they see as an outcome every once awhile.

Please do say hello: neil.tambe[at]gmail[dot]com