I don’t claim to be an expert with a Ph.D. and scientific data or a spiritual guru who’s mastered enlightenment. I don’t even claim to be a good person. Good people don’t need to tell people they’re good, people just know it. This is my personal experience in life and about spiritual ideals, of which I often fall short. If you’re on the fence about the question, why should I be a good person, you are not alone. I can relate to the great temptation to shortcut my principles of being a good person to satisfy my instincts for success, prestige, security, and sex. My faults always fall into one of those categories.
What is a good person?
I didn’t realize what a huge subject this was until I sat down to write about it. I got overwhelmed from the beginning when I tried to write a definition of what a good person is, and realized I couldn’t, other than giving character traits of what is a good person. It’s a question that would get a different answer from anyone who’s asked. All the answers must have a commonality at its essence, I’d think. I searched the internet for a definition, which defined a good person as an honest, helpful, and moral person. I can agree with those broad strokes. But then, what’s the definition of moral. Good people don’t require an audience, recognition, reward or notoriety for their good deeds, they just do them because it’s the right thing to do and do not expect anything in return. In a sentence, I’d say a good person is defined by their motives and actions. That’s not a hardline. Doing something wrong on occassion doesn’t necessarily make me a bad person either. I’m flawed, a work in progress, but that’s also not an excuse to continue to do harm.
Grab the money – Being bad gets me what I want.
Why should I be good, when there are so many people in this world not being good people, enjoying the best things in life, getting what they want, and getting away with it! Why shouldn’t I get mine?
I do things that aren’t “good”, like lie, cheat, steal, manipulate…, because that’s how I get things I want. I get stuff. And I’m afraid if don’t “make it happen”, I won’t get what I want. That’s the truth at its core. It’s always the same things I want, more money, power, and sex. I think I need more to be okay; to be validated. From my perspective, this is the status quo message society puts out as the goal in the game of life, which is unsustainable to a meaningful life. I found when I get these things, I’m satisfied for a short time, then I want or think I need more to be okay. There’s never enough of money or power. It’s addictive. Power is responsibility run riot. I can use money to dominate people. I enjoy power. It gives me a feeling of being better than the rest. It gives me a sense of confidence. I must be doing life right because I am successful, is the attitude. People are nicer to me. People envy me. But people as a whole really envy money, not me. It’s false confidence. Take away the money, then where am I? Having sex does not relieve me of the desire to have sex. It just makes me want to have more sex. I tend to want more than my fair share of things, which is the exact point where my life begins to get unnecessarily complicated.
There’s a widely believed idea, that when I get all the things that I want in life, I’ll be happy. I am not deprecating personal success, material achievement. nor am I talking about giving up all my possessions or being celibate to be a good person. I have goals, I like weird sex, I want to have a respectable reputation amongst my peers and in society. There are things that I want for myself. It’s a fine line when I make those things the object of life. Getting what I want and being happy are not the same thing.
Down the rabbit hole
Reaping the rewards of a dishonest, greedy, selfish life comes with a price, I have to live with myself. These internal consequences have taken their toll on me in the long haul. Knowing I am screwing someone else out of something they may need and deserve or benefiting from something that causes harm to others becomes etched into my being. I begin to normalize these flaws, crossing lines and doing things I told myself I would never do. I become numb to compassion. Now fear dictates my life decisions and actions, twisting my thoughts and distorting reality. Fear of being found out, people will know I can’t be trusted. Fear my reputation will be ruined. Fear people will think I’m a fraud, worse, I know I am a fraud as I try to live up to a reputation that I know I don’t deserve. Leading to feelings of guilt, shame, self-hatred when I look in the mirror. Needing to tell another lie to back up the lie I told, that covers up the truth to what I’ve done. The amount of energy it takes to keep juggling all this is overwhelming and exhausting.
Keeping all these secrets to myself, underlies my inability to have an honest relationship with another human being, causing me to feel alone, lost, disconnected, and depressed. I ask myself, what’s wrong with me? How did this happen? I avoid facing people I’ve wronged. Rather than humiliate myself, I double down and strike first with gossip. I try to ruin you before you tell people the truth about me. I’d break up with the old girlfriend and get a new girlfriend, rather than face the truth, same with new friends, new place to live, new job, making fresh starts, only to wind up back where I started from again. Same sh**, different toilet. It’s just a matter of time. Periodically trying to balance myself with yoga, a vacation, meditation, the gym or – fill in the blank. These practices are futile if my actions don’t align.
Closing the loophole
Being nice to people doesn’t necessarily make me a good person either. I also get stuff by being nice to people, the right people. If I want something from you, I can be a nice guy, charming, friendly, thoughtful. I can hide my real motives behind a good deed. That’s a different angle on the same attitude and behavior, maybe even more evilish. Transactional relationships aren’t inherently bad. Society functions on that principle. It’s when I’m dishonest, misrepresenting my intentions in these relationships that makes the difference.
Am I born bad?
I think this is important to note, to answer this question, I must be in touch with and able to identify my thoughts and feelings. I took for granted that I could. I was shocked to find out things about myself that I could not see on my own when they were revealed to me. Attitudes and behaviors I had, of which I was unaware. There are some who are born mentally ill who cannot overcome their psychological difficulties. My thinking wasn’t something I was born with; it was something I learned. The message I learned was, what I had and what I wanted was more important than what I did.
The world is full of good people. There are some people who get it, right away. People who have the ideals of good in them and never stray too far. This is not my experience. I thought I was smarter than those kinds of people. I thought those people were suckers and I laughed at them. Today these people are the heroes in my life, who point the way for me. They were right all along. I was wrong. It’s not so important that I was wrong, but more my ability to say, I was wrong.
Am I a Good Person?
I like to think of myself as a good person, but can I trust my own point of view on myself? Is my own self-appraisal reliable? Absolutely not. My mind, by default, will not allow me to think badly of myself for a long period of time, if at all. Eventually I twist the facts to my liking whether consciously or unconsciously. I will justify, minimize, and rationalize the most outrageous nonsense, so I can live with myself. I know. I’ve done it. Half of my brain is selling lies and the other half is buying them. My thinking has been proven unsound. Blurring the line of true and false. I cannot trust my mind to tell me the truth about myself. That is a jagged pill indeed.
Try this test
Find out if you can trust your mind to tell you the truth about yourself? Ask yourself this two-part question. Do I tell the truth, even when it doesn’t serve me, even if I know the truth will have consequences for me? The trick to this question is, a dishonest person will answer yes, I do tell the truth and an honest person will answer no, I don’t always tell the truth.
A wise person knows to double check their intuition with another person. I have a blindspot in my rearview mirror. I need help from other people to make sure I am seeing all things correctly and from other angles. I need people to tell me what they see. Someone who will tell me the truth (preferably with compassion) even if it’s unpleasant. Not people who will tell me what I want to hear. In asking a closed mouth friend for their opinion, I am also quite capable of tailoring a story by omitting an important detail or two, thereby painting a picture of what I want someone to see, so I can get the response I want. This obviously defeats the purpose.
Do people change?
Tragically, few change. Change is the last house on the block, after I’ve knocked on every door. My experience is, it takes life-changing pain to motivate life-change. I don’t change by virtue, others may. Some people can self-correct. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to do that. Suffering put life in proper perspective, allowing me to see clearly what’s really important. A willingness to change coming from within followed. It wasn’t that I just had to change a few things in my life. I had a fundamental flaw in the way I processed thoughts in my mind. Of course, I had to try to fix me, my way, without help. The crazy man will fix himself. Change began for me by abandoning all my ideas on how to live my life, admitting, I don’t know what to do and asking for help.
To the point – why should I be a good person.
Trying to achieve, victories by less than honest means, aren’t the same as victories when doing the best one can. They’re hollow like a house of cards. The internal victory of character building good work is something that cannot be taken away from someone. The good work is the journey. Good work will build a house standing on a strong foundation.
Being a good person is its own reward, whose effects can be felt immediately and over time are quantifiable. Money, sex, and power isn’t really what I wanted. They’re things I desire. The real motive behind those desires is wanting to be loved, accepted, and feel emotionally and financially secure. By allowing inspiration to guide me rather than being driven by emotions, has put me in a position to be ready and able to receive those gifts. The paradoxes are, the more I practice, just doing the best I can and not “making things happen” by underhanded actions, the bigger my life becomes. And when I help someone else, I’m actually helping myself. Sounds hokey doesn’t it. I didn’t believe it when it was explained to me. It’s so simple I missed it. I’m too smart for that childishness, was my thinking.
Being good is a practice. I make mistakes all the time. I’m no angel, nor do I want to be. I think making mistakes is just as important as doing the right thing, because these are the lessons in life I need to learn. When I’m in pain, I pay attention – life is trying to teach me something.
I believe everyone pays for their harmful deeds one way or another. Whether it’s a public suffering or an internal suffering or the suffering of cheating myself out of something better and never knowing what I missed.
I’d like to think that every evildoer, at some point, lay awake in bed in the middle of the might unable to sleep over their sins, wanting to be a better person, as I did. Perhaps they’re not, so I act accordingly.