I had a conversation recently where someone described themselves as a good person and I stopped/corrected them. People are not inherently good or bad, they do relatively good or bad things, and have a tendency of those things. It made me think of who gets to be good or bad, whose perspectives are represented, who is typecast as what, and how does the curve of the arc of justice rectify all these imbalances. Who gets to posit themselves as good or bad? Who wins, and who loses? Who saves, and who gets saved? The false dichotomy of good and evil, like most things, plays into our social norms and their implications. People can do or say the same thing and based on how we’ve learned to interpret them and who they are we react differently. Goodness is not applied evenly. Not everyone gets the chance to be “good.” Justice is relative. Proximity changes everything. How can we have absolutes in an uncertain world?
Am I a good person? That’s a question with an answer that varies based on the standard being measured against, and the vantage point from which you view me. I’m not a good person. I strive to do well by others, and treat them how they wish to be treated. Am I good person because I am often generous, patient, or kind? Not necessarily. Am I only “good” because I have the time and resources to be? I don’t know. Am I “more” good because I can give my time, energy, effort, money, etc. to other people? That’s a complicated question. Goodness much like most phenomena is a social construct. We have a cultural-sourced idea of what it means to be good. Goodness conceptually is limiting. We have to be more specific at what we’re trying to flesh out. Is goodness justice, is it equality/equity, is it righteousness, is it morality, happiness, joy, peace, light, or something more ambiguously amorphous? I don’t know. Goodness is not just something we declare ourselves to be – it must be reaffirmed, earned, and proven, daily, moment by moment, instance by instance. Goodness is a repeated behavior not singular gesture.
Moral absolutism is reductive, and dangerous. We cannot disregard the contributions of a person because of their crimes against humanity AND we cannot use someone’s utility to excuse their heinous behavior. People have to be taken as both, all, and everything in between. We have to be able to acknowledge the objective benevolence of a person AND their malignancy as well. If we are the prevailing balance on the scales of justice of all that we have done then that judgement seems to lack the nuance it necessitates. I believe people must be held accountable for their actions, words, and impacts. Praise what is praiseworthy, and chastise what deserves punishment. One extreme or the extreme skews our perspective of the wholeness of people. Are people worthy of redemption? In all instances? At all times? Are people the sum of their experiences or simply the best or worst thing they have ever done or said? We have to be more, and we have to be whole. We are what we do repeatedly, and that is a testament to who we are, our character, and our penchant. If we do good, or if we do bad, consistently, that is who we are. Different actions or words carry different weight, and its both relative and not. That doesn’t quite make sense, and it also does. It’s simultaneous, and also distinct.
People are complicated, and also they’re not. People are hard to read, and then again they’re simple. People are people. Humanity is ever-changing, and yet we remain steadfast. We have to give ourselves grace and extend that same compassionate kindness to others. Being nice is ignoring when someone has food in their teeth to not make them feel awkward about it. Kindness, however, is responsibility, and telling them they have food in their teeth. Kindness is treating people better than they deserve while still holding them accountable. It is honesty, truth, and authenticity. Kindness is doing right by yourself so that you can do right by others. Kindness is just. Kindness is true. Kindness is real. When people hurt other people they have to be made to understand their impact, and deal with the ramifications. People can ask for forgiveness but we have to willing to accept it to receive it. Asking for forgiveness does not guarantee People are not owed forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean returned access to a person. Forgiveness is a choice to process the harm done, reclaim power from it, and learn from it – reconciliation, and/or absolution are subject to dispensation. We have to leave room in the margins to make edits, to figure one another out as we go, to take notes, and to write fuller summaries instead of click-bait headlines of who people are. X