How To Be Good

During my year, I never achieved the moral heights of Gandhi or Angelina Jolie. But I was certainly more angelic than my normal, non-Biblical self. Here, some techniques I picked up:

One of my spiritual advisers gave me a good image here: Think of negative speech as verbal pollution. Visualize insults and gossip as a dark cloud, maybe one with some sulfur dioxide. Once you’ve belched it out, you can’t take it back. Another good anti-gossiping resource: The Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation, a Jewish organization that is on a mission to stamp out negative speech (Lashon hara in Hebrew. www.chofetzchaimusa.orgThey even have a hotline you can call when you’re on the precipice of saying something negative: 718-951-3696. (I once called it when I had the irrepressible urge to say nasty things about Hollywood director Michael Bay, about whom I was writing about in an article. They talked me down).

And finally, a pastor in Kansas City has started this movement: A Complaint Free World. [] The idea is that you wear a purple bracelet to remind you to stop whining for 21 straight days.

My dad is the only person I know who does not steal. Ever. When we go on a road trip, he won’t stop at a gas station just to use their bathroom. He feels that’s stealing the station’s paper towels and soap.

During my year, I tried to think like my dad. You must be constantly aware of the impact of your actions. Because we steal all the time: We steal office supplies. We swipe our neighbor’s wireless. We steal time from a friend by being late. We steal from our kids’ future by leaving the lights on when we go out of the house.

You have to think absurdly broadly. Is refusing to buckle your seatbelt an act of theft? Probably. If you get injured, you’re taking medical resources away from others. What about eating a plate of trans-fat-filled curly fries? Probably stealing. Anyway, it tastes too good not to be sinful.

During my year, I carved out 10 percent of my salary and gave it, as the Bible recommends, to the poor, the widows and the orphans. It was, as they say, a good kind of pain. My only suggestions:

Use this great website, which is a Zagat’s guide to charities. It rates charities by efficiency: How much of the money actually gets to the people, and how much goes to CEO salaries and office supplies.

The charities I gave to included: Feed the Children, Save Darfur and Warm Blankets Orphan Care.

Also, a plug for a friend’s business: Every time you use this search engine, a corporation donates to a favorite cause of yours.

The Bible says not to lie (“A righteous man hateth lying,” Proverbs 13:5). Which is shockingly hard to do, since I have a lying problem. I don’t tell a lot of big lies, mostly just white lies. Half-truths. Sugarcoating.

But in the year, I experimented with a fib-free existence. If you want to try this, you should read a book called Radical Honesty by Brad Blanton. He started a movement that is the real-life version of Jim Carrey’s Liar, Liar. I wrote about the movement for an Esquire article here []. It was a fascinating experiment, and completely terrifying.

The Bible is not actually anti-sex. Parts, especially in the Old Testament, are quite in favor of erotic love. And the Song of Solomon is almost as racy as a Henry Miller novel. But if you’re a married man (or woman) and you become infatuated with your neighbor’s wife (or husband), then it’s probably good biblical sense to put the freeze on your libido. How to do that? I found four strategies.

a) A medieval rabbi recommended this one: When you see a pretty married woman, think of her as out of your league. Think of her as a peasant would a princess: She’s attractive, but she’s so far out of your realm, your admiration is abstract, not lascivious.

b) A more hardcore variation on that first strategy: Put your neighbor’s wife in the same category as your mother. The very thought of sex with her is abhorrent, except to those who read too much Freud. Try it. It’s effective, if disturbing. (Also courtesy of the medieval rabbi).

c) Recite Bible passages. This method I got from a book called When Good Men Are Tempted. The meaning of the passage is almost beside the point. I could have probably recited the lyrics to the Mikado and gotten a similar benefit. It’s all about keeping your mind distracted.

d) Do not objectify. Battle your urge to objectify women and/or men focusing on them as a complete person, instead of a collection of covetable body parts. Think about their childhood, what their favorite novel might be, how many cousins they have, whether they own a PC or Mac. I learned this strategy from a sermon by a Unitarian pastor.