Being Good

Are you being a good person if you’re trying to be a good person? Does it count if you’re conscious of the fact, if you’re measuring your own progress, which then by definition contains some self-congratulations? Doesn’t that negate the goodness or at least diminish the selflessness of it?

How about those who are just good by nature, who operate unconsciously? One could argue that since their goodness is effortless they deserve less credit. However, we tend to praise those born into goodness as if somehow, somewhere, they created their own nature.

My nature feels born of less goodness. My quibbling brain. The scowls my face births effortlessly. The judgments of my mind I strive to silence even though they exist only in thought. Does fighting what I dislike about my nature elevate my goodness rating or does my innate badness trump action? And does my interest in my rating further lower my goodness factor?

In this Catch 22, my striving for goodness casts my actions as disingenuous. When I bought a new baby gift for the neighbor below me, a neighbor I almost never see or speak to, was I just purchasing goodness points in the package of cute onesies? What did she think when I knocked on her door and handed over my purchase? “Thank you,” or “Why now?” When I left after our short visit where I got the birth story and commented on the girl’s full head of hair and inaudible cries, why did I think, “I did it,” as if it had been a challenge?

When I let a signaling driver into my lane, I do it out of courtesy, but also to show I am good. When I make a charitable contribution, more attempts at goodness, even if I genuinely support and care about the cause. Goodness is my constant barometer.

In yesterday’s state of dysfunction when my brain begged to cocoon, to not speak or interact, to say no to the phone, it still offered me all these questions. It sat me down and stuck a pen in my hand. It told me, “Go ahead. Explore.” It told me that questions can matter as much as answers. And when I ran out or words, it took me to the movies to see “In the Shadow of the Moon,” a documentary that not only took me into space but took me back to a precious childhood moment that made me swell with nostalgia and the sensation of wonder.

I walked out of the theater glad I had gone alone, glad that no one else’s experience of the film could debate my own, glad that I could just be in that moment. And all the questions of goodness fell away, for I can only be who I am, like it or not. I will not walk on the moon as I once dreamed. I will not be remembered for goodness. But those who knew me may chew on my understated perseverance. Or maybe not.

And I will still try to be good, rating be damned.