Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Myth and Futility of Being Good

I was never very good at being good, though I tried. 

I worked hard in school. I tried to be a good friend. I aimed to please. I got good grades and excelled at sports. I wanted everyone to like me. I would cry when they didn’t. Sometimes trying to be good worked, and sometimes it didn’t. Most of the time it felt like pushing a boulder up a hill, Sisyphus style.

When I failed at this type of “goodness,” one of two situations was typically present: either the words or actions required for me to succeed were irreconcilable with my values and principles, or I felt defensive about maintaining my own narcissistic self-image of “goodness” at all costs.

Just yesterday, someone corrected my use of a term as offensive to a certain culture. Years ago, I would have bristled at that. I would have rolled my eyes, become defensive, and dismissed the criticism as coming from a “snowflake.” 

But years of these types of interactions, and reactions to my writing, have taught me that actions mean a lot and so do words. How we use words (or don’t use them) matters. So I thanked the person for teaching me something new about words, vowed to use that word differently in the future, and got on with my day.

I rarely get offended anymore, mostly because I am no longer too invested in my own “goodness.” I don’t have an image of myself as “good” that I need to maintain. I recognize that I make mistakes, take risks, act recklessly at times, indulge in narcissism and foolishness, and am subject to justifiable criticism. 

A lot of it.

Rather than denying this, my time feels better spent looking in the mirror and contemplating my own role in damaging systems, rather than expending energy on an all-out campaign of self-defense, self-justification, and self-preservation at all costs.

True snowflakery is the inability or the unwillingness to do the hard work of self-assessment and self-reckoning. It's the inability or unwillingness to accept criticism without bristling in hostility, shutting down, flouncing out, or boomeranging it all back at someone else. It's the inability or unwillingness to step back and think meaningfully about your role in problematic systems, behaviors, and actions. It's the inability or unwillingness to exemplify good character when no one is watching, or do the right thing even when you have to pay a price. I learned all of this the hard way, both through my own words and actions as well as other people’s.

Someone I love sent me a quote this morning from an unknown author that really resonated with me:
The woman you are becoming will cost you people, relationships, spaces, and material things. Choose her over everything.
I made that irreversible choice a long time ago. In retrospect, I was born already having made it. It's living with the consequences that's the hard part.

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