How do we grow a good person?

As part of the fantastic Young Minds conference next week, I will be appearing with the Dalai Lama and a few other awesome people discussing the idea of 'growing a good person'.

It is an interesting issue, and raises a multitude of questions.

What makes a good person?

Can we 'grow' a good person?

Are there qualities that are inherently good or bad, and can we truly become 'better'?

I can't wait to tackle this issue! What are your thoughts?


In the lead up to the conference, I wrote the following piece for the conference blog.


A stroll in the self-help section of any bookstore, electronic or otherwise, will offer a wide and varying selection on how to achieve the illusive state of ‘happiness’.

Happiness seems to be a state which we should aspire to achieve and embody. However, this doesn’t seem to answer all the questions.

If we are all trying so hard to be happy, to de-stress, de-clutter and distance ourselves from anything that brings us pain and difficulty, where are we collectively heading as a society? Can we really achieve and progress if we are not interested in the meaningfulness of what we do and instead focus on our personal, individual happiness?

In her recent article, Nancy Colier asks: Why do we expect ourselves to be happy all the time? It is a pertinent question and challenges a concept that has been encouraged and celebrated strongly over the past couple of decades, particularly in the United States. The article draws from The Atlantic’s original article, which postulates There is actually more to life than just being happy.

If life isn’t about being happy, then what is it about?

Having grown up in a household with a strong Sudanese, community based culture, my younger brother and I were taught the importance of ‘duty’, and doing things with a purpose, something that offered meaning.

This wasn’t something we always understood or appreciated, as for young children and teenagers, the immediate payoff seems to be the most important thing. As time has passed though, I have begun to appreciate what my parents were trying to teach us.

Meaning can bring happiness, but in of itself is much more profound and encompassing than just ‘being happy’.

Meaning is about the concept of working for something larger than your individual person. It is about, as the psychologist who wrote the book Man’s Search for Meaning found, being a ‘giver’ instead of a ‘taker’.

It is a concept that implies a fulfilling life isn’t one that is focused on personal contentment to the exclusion of any pain, suffering, or any struggle for a better situation. Rather, a fulfilling life is one that gives individuals a reason to be happy – or at the very least, content.

Meaning can come in any number of forms, but it is often related to what we as individuals and society value.

For those who value family, meaning and ensuing happiness can come from providing for the family. For those who are more focused on their career, meaning may take the form of employment related activities. For me personally, meaning comes from working with young people and the community to help empower them, individually and as a group.

Achieving or striving for these may not always be sunshine and roses, and may not always provide immediate happiness. However, the long term strive for meaning gives depth to our lives, and value to what we contribute to in society.

It is that meaning that we can derive true happiness from, knowing that our time on this earth made an impact in some way, and that the world is a little better for us having been in it.






Death, Spirituality and Why I Believe.

Spirituality and death are not light topics often spoken of, particularly in Australia.  Deeper questions on life, death, spirituality and meaning are often left untouched outside the circles of philosophy, religion and very close family and friends. Yet they lurk in the shadowy recesses of our minds, buried beneath the busy-ness and the whirlwind of daily life, emerging only when prompted and typically buried soon after.

Death seems to be the one thing that is a certainty, yet it manages to shock us. It is as if we know that it will eventually happen, but don’t believe it when it does, as it forces us to confront our own mortality, our own frailty.

It is fact.  You are going to die. A moving piece written on the NYT puts it well.

we don’t have a choice. You are older at this moment than you’ve ever been before, and it’s the youngest you’re ever going to get. The mortality rate is holding at a scandalous 100 percent. Pretending death can be indefinitely evaded with hot yoga or a gluten-free diet or antioxidants or just by refusing to look is craven denial.

Yet, that is what society does.  We deny it to ourselves.  We imagine that somehow, we will not fall prey to this fatal condition called life.  And yet, we do.  Inevitably.

And inevitably, we become simply another organism that has lived on this earth, and life moves on.  No matter what role we played on this earth – king, pauper, mother, villain – the planet keeps spinning, and eventually, save for a few, even the memory is forgotten.


Paraphrasing from R.Roberts, Islam (for me) is the wonderful belief that this life is not our whole story.

The fundamental belief in Islam, and indeed in many other religions, is that this life is merely a stage in the lives of our soul – that the time on this earth will be judged after we pass on, as we continue into the next life.

This is why death is something we are not taught to fear, but to prepare for.  That doesn’t always make it easier to deal with, but somehow easier accept, and it provides answers to questions no one living can definitely respond to.

I’ve grown into my religion and spirituality as I have aged.  It is a process, just like any thing else, and with this growth has come the realisation that belief in the afterlife changes the perspective and the attitude taken to life as a whole.

For example, people often ask about the difficulty in forgoing things in this world – alcohol, pork and promiscuity are the ones I get asked about the most – and find it difficult to comprehend why anyone would voluntarily put themselves through extra difficulty.  Once you understand that these actions are providing “brownie points” for a level of the game you haven’t reached yet, it begins to make some more sense.

If I have a medical problem, I’ll go to the experts – the doctors.  If I have a question on life, spirituality and what’s next, I live by what the experts in that industry say – the industry of spirituality if you will, is religion.

I don’t always understand the answers I am given, but I have faith. After all, we follow doctor’s orders don’t we?


Here are a two beautiful links that prompted me to write this piece.

Regrets of the dying.

You are going to die.