Y'know, everyone thinks they have good intentions. Have you ever met anyone who said, "I'm here to break stuff and screw the world up"? No, of course not.
I'm thinking you don't actually need good intentions to do good works. Actually, good intentions by themselves don't seem to accomplish much of anything.
Here's the top three virtues I'd look for in someone to actually achieve good things.
Strength is the virtue that's required for all other virtues. If you're not internally strong, you get easily swayed by opinions, social pressure, culture, and things like that. It's hard to hold on to virtues if you're not strong when you're in the crowd.
Long-sighted (as opposed to short-sighted) means a person is thinking 10 years, 20 years, 50 years, 100 years, 500 years out when they take actions. Many people don't think beyond the moment.
Pragmatism means looking at what actually works in the real world, studying examples and history, and going by results instead of intentions or emotions.
I think those three, combined, will produce much better and healthier results than even the best of intentions. For instance, whether a person is selfish or unselfish isn't all that important to me - so long as they're strong, long-sighted, and pragmatic. If you're long-sighted and pragmatic, you generally look for people you have an ongoing relationship with to win, and you realize it's stupid to screw someone for a short term gain. The strength there is the icing on the cake - it means you treat people well even if someone else close to you goes hostile on them or pressures you to wrong by them.
See, I don't think there's any fundamental conflict between spending your time bringing the world you wish to see into existence, doing good works and achieving the objectives you've got personally. Whenever I hear someone get criticized for being selfish, usually you can replace "selfish" with "short-sighted" if the criticism has any legitimacy at all. Treating people well, doing good things, and generally conducting yourself honorably is the way to personal success as well as living in the best possible world. The strong, pragmatic, long-sighted man knows this.
Incremental improvement, not doing long-term destructive things for short-term gain, self-control, willpower, discipline, focus, planning - all of these from the mix of strength, long-sightedness, and pragmatism. If you're long-sighted, pragmatic, and strong, you start learning and training and planning to reach your objectives. All the other good virtues - charity, service, loyalty - seem to flow naturally from strength, pragmatism, and long-sightedness, because in the long run, doing those things serves the individual and the world at the same time.
Short-sighted good intentions or idealist, unpragmatic solutions have brought a lot of hell and misery to the world. Take the strong, long-sighted, pragmatic guy every time over the short-sighted or non-pragmatic guy with good intentions.
"Life is suffering," said Buddha. His plan? Release your attachments to this world and end your suffering.
I'm not with Buddha on this one. Give me strife and suffering. And once I have grown stronger, tempered, hardened by the strife, give me MORE.
Life is strife, suffering, struggle. Your body and mind are kept alive by a series of violent chemical reactions, your heartbeat, the acid in your stomach, the cells constantly breaking apart and dying as new ones are created, the battle towards homeostatis with different bacteria and cells combating each other, all inside your body.
Your mind - your thoughts - may come into conflict, especially when you're trying to do meaningful things. It's easy to feel the pull of distraction and ease, and to choke up and pause in fear when you look at the mountain you're set to climb. The mind is not in harmony, especially at the beginning. Struggle, strife, conflict, suffering.
I say - give it to me! But not so fast that it will break me. I must be pragmatic. We must be pragmatic. We have our limits. We can expand them over time. It's not brave to go into the gym for the first time and try to lift 400 pounds. It's foolhardy, unrealistic, stupid. Being pragmatic, aware of our limits takes its own sort of courage.
I have a really strong desire to be the best person I can be. Not in the Army reserves sort of way, but eliminating weaknesses and building strengths. I think it's a ridiculous privilege to be alive, and I want to make the most of that. I have a human mind, so I want to sharpen it. I have a human body, so I want to strengthen and protect it. I have fellow humans, so I want to relate to them better, learn from them, and benefit them however possible.
Part of the human experience is having faults, and like everyone else, I have lots of them. Through my path in life, though, I've been lucky enough to really experience and understand that all faults can be fixed. Some of my biggest faults, like my social ineptness and my lack of discipline eventually got turned around into strengths. Once you go through that experience of turning a negative that feels like a part of you into a true strength, you see all weaknesses in a new light. Anything that I don't like about myself can be fixed completely.
This process takes time and effort, though, and I know that I have a limited amount of both. That means that at all times I should be making myself better in some way. I have long term campaigns like eating healthy, meditating, getting good sleep, traveling, etc., but I also add new things all the time. I never have the urge to put off fixing myself because I know that my life is only so long and that there are a lot of things to fix. For example, Mystery posted a video to his wall about the damage that pornography is doing to men. My consumption of pornography was probably lower than average anyway, but I quit cold turkey immediately after watching the video. I don't find things like that difficult, because my impulse to improve myself is much greater than any other impulse I have.
Some people may object, saying that it's best to be happy with you are and not feel like you need to improve and fix yourself. I agree with that, too, and I don't think that it's a contradiction. It's natural to be very happy with something imperfect, but still enjoy improving it. I've liked my RV since the first day I bought it, but I still fix and improve it as time goes on. I'm proud of my blog, but I always try to improve my writing and the blog platform itself. In fact, I think that a certain level of self esteem is necessary for long-term self improvement. You have to believe that you're worth improving and that you have the capability to do so. There's a difference between feeling like you have to fix yourself to be an acceptable human being and loving being a human so much that you want to become as good as you possibly can.