Read LETTING THE CROWDS BE GOOD - CHAPTER III of Crowds A Moving-Picture of Democracy, free online book, by Gerald Stanley Lee, on


People are acquiring automobiles, Oriental rugs, five-hundred-dollar gowns, more rapidly just now than they are goodness, because advertisements in this present generation are more readable than sermons, and because the shop windows on Fifth Avenue can attract more attention than the churches.  The shop windows make people covetous.

If the goodness that one sees, hears about, or goes by does not make other people covetous, does not make them wish they had it or some just like it, it must be because there is something the matter with it, or something the matter with the way it is displayed.

If the church shop windows, for instance, were to make displays of goodness up and down the great Moral Fifth Avenue of the world-well, one does not know; but there are some of us who would rather expect to see the Goodness Display in the windows consisting largely of Things People Ought Not to Want.

There would be rows and tiers of Not-Things piled up-Things for People Not to Be, and Things for People Not to Do.

Goodness displayed in this way is not interesting.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the word Goodness spoils a thing for people-so many people-when it is allowed in it.

Possibly it is because we are apt to think of the good people, and of the people who are being good, as largely keeping from doing something, or as keeping other people from doing something-as negative.  Their goodness seems to consist in being morally accurate, and in being very particular just in time, and in a kind of general holding in.

We do not naturally or off-hand-any of us-think of goodness as having much of a lunge to it.  It is tired-looking and discouraged, and pulls back kindly and gently.  Or it teases and says, “Please”-God knows how helpless it is, and I for one am frank to say that, as far as I have observed, He has not been paying very much attention to good people of late.

I do not believe I am alone in this.  There must be thousands of others who have this same half-guilty, half-defiant feeling of suspiciousness toward what people seem to think should be called goodness.  Not that we say anything.  We merely keep wondering-we cannot see what it is, exactly, about goodness that should make it so depressing.

In the meantime we hold on.  We do not propose to give up believing in it.  Perhaps, after all, all that is the matter with goodness in the United States is the people who have taken hold of it.

They do not seem to be the kind of people who can make it interesting.  We cannot help thinking, if these same bad people about us, or people who are called bad, would only take up goodness awhile, how they would make it hum!

I can only speak for one, but I do not deny that when I have been sitting (in some churches), or associating, owing to circumstances, with very good people a little longer than usual, and come out into the street, I feel like stepping up sometimes to the first fine, brisk, businesslike man I see going by, and saying, “My dear sir, I do wish that you would take up goodness awhile and see if, after all, something cannot really be done.  I keep on trying to be hopeful, but these dear good people in here, it seems to me, are making a terrible mess of it!”

And, to make a long story short, Lim happened to be going by one day, and this practically is what I did.  I had done it before with other business men in spirit or in a general way, but with him I was more particular.  I went straight to the point.  “Here are at least sixteen valuable efficient brands of goodness in America,” I said, “all worth their weight in gold for a big business career, that no one is really using, that no one quite believes in or can get on the market, and yet I believe with my whole soul in them all, and I believe thousands of other men do, or are ready to, the moment some one makes a start.”

I pulled out a little list of items which I had made out and put down on a piece of paper, and handed them over to him, and said I wished he would take a few of them-the first five or six or so-and make them work.

He already had, I found, made two or three of the harder ones work.

I would not have any one suppose for a moment that I am presenting Lim as a kind of business angel.

No one who knows Lim thinks of him, or would let anybody else think of him, as being a Select Person, as being particularly or egregiously what he ought to be.  This is one reason I have picked him out.  Being good in a small private way, just as a small private end in itself, may be practicable perhaps without dragging in people who are not quite what they ought to be.  But the moment one tries to make goodness work, one comes to the fact that it must be made to work with what we have.  We have a great crowd of unselected people, people both good and bad, and the first principle in making goodness work (instead of being merely good) seems to be to believe that goodness is not too good for anybody.  Anybody who can make it work can have it, and what goodness seems to need, especially in America and England just now, is people who do not feel that they must at all hazards look good.  Whatever happens, whatever else we do in any general investment or movement we may be making with goodness, we must let these people in.  If there is one thing rather than another that those of us who know Lim all rely on and like, it is that nothing can ever make him slump down into looking good.  We often find him hard to make out-everything is left open and loose and unlabelled in Lim’s moral nature.  The only really sure way any one can tell when Lim is being good is, that whenever he is being good he becomes suddenly and unexpectedly interesting.  His goodness is daring, unexpected, and original.  One has the feeling that it may break out anywhere.  It is always doing things that everybody said could not be done before.  It is true that some people are dazed, and no one can ever seem to feel sure he knows what it is that is going on in Lim when he is being good, or that it is goodness.  He merely keeps watching it.  There is a certain element of news, of freshness, of gentle sensation, in his goodness.  It leads to consequences.  And there always seems to be something about Lim’s goodness which attracts the attention of people, and makes people who see it want it.  So when I speak of goodness in this book, and put it down as the basis of the power of getting men to do as one likes, I do not deny that I am taking the word away and moving it over from its usual associations.  I do not mean by a good act, a good-looking act, but an act so constituted that it makes good.  For the purpose of this book I would define goodness as efficiency.  Goodness is the quality in a thing that makes the thing go, and that makes it go so that it will not run down, and that nothing can stop it.

There is the inefficiency of lying, for instance, and the inefficiency of force, or bullying.