The notion of being a ‘good’ person has come up for me a lot lately. Everyone does things they’re not proud of; everyone can look back and identify mistakes they’ve made. Many of us have also faced impossible choices where we will feel like bad people no matter what we decide. Does any of that make us bad people?
Of course not. But we think it does. We are our own worst critics. But ask yourself: how can anyone live up to the impossible standards of what it means to be a ‘good’ person? You would have to know well in advance how every decision you make is going to affect everyone around you. You would basically have to be a superhero, magician, or time-traveler.
There is another option. We can accept that there are no good or bad people, because ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are relative terms. We can only be clear with ourselves of what our own personal definitions of good and bad are; since they’re subjective, we can figure out what they mean to each of us, on a personal level, and use that as our own compass.
What I realized very recently is that, ultimately, when we are trying to be good people, we are really trying to feel good about ourselves. This is easier when other people like us, but if you don’t feel good about yourself, you won’t trust when people around you say you’re a good person. You’ll find ways to rationalize it away. At the end of the day, we need to be content with ourselves, to be willing and able to stand by all the decisions we make – even when they are those impossible ones.
As far as I can tell, there’s only one sure way to be able to stand by even tough decisions where there is no obvious good choice. Be authentic. Be truly you. No one knows you as well as you do, and no one ever will; they can’t tell you what you should do, because only you know what you would do in your situation.
An interesting by-product of this stance is that you find yourself better able to be accountable for your choices, and for your own reality. There’s less inclination to blame others or the world or circumstance for how you feel or what your life is like, because you make your choices consciously and from your core. You’ve listened to your deepest inner truth, your heart, your own conscience. You’ve trusted your instincts, your intuition. Even when things don’t turn out how you expect, you know there’s something in the outcome that you need, because you’re making choices in line with your core. It’s also easier to be brave for all the same reasons.
In fact, everything slowly starts to fall into place and make more sense. It doesn’t really get easier, in the sense that there will always be suffering and challenges, but it does get less confusing.
The hardest part of this idea is knowing what in us is authentically us, and what is photocopied dogma from the outside world, from people we respect or trust. Filtering our truth out from what we want to be true is a long, slow road… which makes it all the more satisfying when you sit back one day and realize how much more you know about yourself than you did a year ago, or five years ago – and how much more you can accept about yourself.