The Will to Be Good Good

Sabato (Sam) Rodia was born in Ribottoli, Italy in 1879. Sam came to America a few years after his brother and located in Pennsylvania. When his brother died in a coal mining accident, Sam moved to the west coast.

As Sam described himself, “I was one of the bad men in the United States.” He was a drunk. He was married and divorced twice. Sam was able to buy a home in the Watts section of Los Angeles. The home was located on a triangular piece of land. He was 43 years old, barely literate, and largely unskilled.

In 1921, Sam had an epiphany: “You have to be either good good or bad bad.” He decided to be good good. He began digging a foundation just two feet deep. Then he started to build towers. He had no scaffolding. He climbed the tower and hung on to what he had already built to add the next additions. He had no design or equipment.

Sam had a regular day job and worked on the tower at night. He added broken glass, sea shells, pottery and tile pieces to the metal framing to form a mosaic. Overtime, he built more towers and other structures.

When Sam was 75, he fell off one of his towers. While he survived, he realized that his days of doing good good were over. He gave his property to a neighbor and left.

When engineers decided the towers were unsafe, they ordered them to be demolished. A local group of artists banded together to save the towers. A test was devised to see what it would take to topple a tower. A cable was attached to the tallest tower (99 feet) and a winch began to pull. Finally, the winch was lifted off the ground and the test was called off. The towers remained.

Sam died at the age of 86 having fulfilled his goal of doing good good. The towers have 40,000 visitors per year. One sculptor describes the towers as “as pure a work of art as this country can rightly call its own.”

What does it mean to do good good? That’s a question that each of us needs to answer for ourselves, but there are some guidelines that might be used to explore your good good:

  • It should involve a uniqueness that we possess.
  • It should be something that extends beyond us and our family.
  • It should be something that we sustain over a period of time.
  • It should be a personal passion that we can share with others.

The Watts Towers have become a cultural attraction while the good goods may be more private, but just as important.

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“I believe that every human mind feels pleasure in doing good to another.” – Thomas Jefferson

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