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But I’m a good person, really

Why are we so hung up on seeing ourselves as “essentially good”?

This morning, I was in a cafe restroom that had one of those automatic paper towel dispensers. I enjoyed seeing and feeling the brown paper rolling out of the machine, so even though my hands were mostly dry, I stuck it under the sensor a second time so I could get two sheets rather than a single one. “You didn’t need that! That poor tree didn’t need that! You are not being environmentally conscious. You are part of the problem!” said the voice in my head.

Yesterday, over lunch with a friend, I made a negative comment about a certain group of people then immediately felt disgusted with myself. I spent the next half hour back peddling, explaining to my friend how there was really nothing wrong with this group and that the real problem was my own biased thinking and prejudices; what a small-minded person I was, so easily subjected to the influences of social conditioning, and how I needed to “work” on this.

The day before, on the phone with my grandmother, I listened to her gossip about someone we both knew. I tried not to encourage this, but I threw it my two cents worth as a collaborator anyway then felt icky afterwards. Then, while having a shower, I thought about how I actually didn’t always like these long phone conversations with my grandma, but how I felt good about myself for dutifully reaching out to her once a week because it was the right thing to do.

Over the weekend, I was talking to my husband about something I perceived as a personal accomplishment when I became aware of the physical discomfort and nervous sensations that accompanied my self-satisfied monologue; like my head needed a pin in it.

When I was young, I was ignorantly and blissfully selfish and self-absorbed, but as I got older, I developed this burdensome thing called a conscience. I say it is a burden because my damn Jiminy Cricket is a tenacious bugger, but let me tell you, his intensions are not quite as lofty as they may at first appear to be.

Out in the world, he — I’m using the male pronoun because it’s easier, though I can sense the cricket getting edgy about offending women and those who use non-conventional gender pronouns — sells his wares to us as “self-examination”, “personal development”, “self-improvement”, “spiritual advancement”, “religion”, “moral refinement’, “political correctness”, “egalitarianism”, “shadow work” or “enlightenment”. And almost all of us buy it in one form or another because the cricket knows our deepest secret — that we need to see ourselves as essentially good.

So I asked myself: “Why is it so important to you that you see yourself as a good person?”

Here came the answers:

  • Because I don’t want to feel guilty or ashamed.

  • Because I want to be liked, accepted, and approved of by the world.

  • Because I don’t want to be criticized or chastised by others.

  • Because I don’t like confrontation and conflict, and I believe (rightly or wrongly) that by not offending people, I can minimize such occurrences.

  • Because I don’t like the idea or having enemies or being one.

  • Because I don’t like the feelings of anger, contempt, or condescension I feel within me when I am thinking negative, disagreeable or judgmental thoughts about others.

  • Because seeing myself as “good” gives me peace of mind.

  • Because I don’t like harming others or making them feel uncomfortable or bad about themselves, as doing so makes me feel petty and villainous, more beast-like, less human.

  • Because I don’t want to regret my words or actions.

  • Because I want to imagine that I am in my maker’s good books (and will go to heaven if there is one and not the other place).

  • Because I want good karma (Show me the pleasant stuff universe! Spare me the pain!).

  • · Because I want to be pure, noble, victorious, a hero in my own story. And in yours too if possible!

  • Because I want to feel superior so I don’t feel inferior.

Yikes!!! It’s all about me! So trying to be “good” is essentially self-serving.

I dare you to ask yourself the same question and get honest about what’s really driving your desire to see yourself as a good person.

Now that I have some idea of what’s behind my codependent relationship with ol’ Jiminy, I’ll be resigning from the saint academy and giving myself permission to be flawed, impure, under-evolved, and underdeveloped; to be a f*cking human being.

Mark Twain once said, “Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life”. Man knows what he’s talking about! So let’s give ourselves a break people. We’re good enough wherever we’re at, let’s stop trying to be so perfect.

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