Yesterday I wrote a little poem about the ‘truly good’ who do not see themselves as such. These are people who have experienced the harsh, ugly side of life and somehow associate their identity with these bad things. They feel irredeemable. Yet, they are driven to perform acts of goodness, all the while never believing they can do enough good to make them worthy in the eyes of others, themselves or especially a higher power. They simply do right, silently, seeming to hope it will not be observed by anyone else. They do not seek praise or reward. It is simply what they must do.
Perhaps they do these things in a subconsciously attempt to repay a kindness granted to them in the past. A kind act of another that enabled them to survive a difficult circumstance or that helped them find a better path. More than likely, you will never know their reasons for the good they do, or why they irreverently despise themselves regardless of their actions.
We may admire them for it, feel a desire to point out their exemplary behavior. But they will likely reject this and may even become angered by it.
Goodness is subjective. It comes in shades of grey. The perspective of goodness varies from one person to the next. Most of us believe we are good and it is primarily true, though some of us are not as good as we believe.
We may know those who are very public about their goodness – full of self righteousness, attending church every Sunday, touting their charity work and donations, and yet their behaviors, words and actions (whether private or public) don’t always match up to the image they wish to have acknowledged. They are either lying to themselves or hoping to deceive a higher power. Perhaps they are counting on that open window of godly forgiveness many religions support. If by committing only small evils they can be wiped away when they show up in the construction of worship. Cleansed and forgiven. A convenient pardon granted.
Even those who have crossed that darker grey line into the realm of badness do not view themselves as such. In their minds, justifiable reasons exist for what they do and are ultimately done for a perceived greater good.
An example that comes to mind, for me, is a simple yet current one. Rioters. Certainly, some readers will strongly disagree with my perspective.
Rioters commit deplorable deeds, justified by a desired goal to send a message of outrage or protest against their perception of a wrong. The problem with rioting is that it is violent, destructive and becomes self-serving (especially when it includes looting). Rioting removes reason and civility and ends up hurting not only the people and establishments the rioters despise, but everybody in between, including those left to deal with the reprecusions. Negative behavior like this produces a counteractive effect by diminishing the desired empathy and support of the rioting group’s original cause. Rioting is fueled by anger and hate, and no matter how justified a rioter feels in their violent demand to be heard, nothing good exists in their actions, leading to an overall negative response and result from the opposition. Yet, conversely, I suspect an aspect of their acting out feels satisfying in some way – like a child throwing a tantrum.
While the idea of what a good person looks like varies, we may agree goodness is not an exclusive club comprised of one type set of individuals. There is goodness in nearly all people, just as there is some level of badness. We cannot deny or ignore the small evils of gossip, lying, cheating or anything else we do that we would not proudly share with others.
In measuring our own goodness, if so inclined, we could look at the reasons we contrive to explain the things we believe to do out of goodness. Are they performed without malice, judgement, desire for recognition or reward?
The least we can do is to be honest in the justifications we tell ourselves.