by Nic Olson
I sat cross-legged in the cushioned armchair, scratching paint off my water bottle in the cozy, warmly coloured, obviously intentionally non-institutional office of my psychologist/psychotherapist/whatever.
Isn’t it enough to just be a good person and treat people well? she asked after a near hour-long discussion of how far one needs to go to make the world less of a festering shit hole, with me grinding myself into a hole trying to figure out how to do so.
I thought it over. I pictured the tax-paying, maybe church-going, home-owning, child-rearing city councillor who occasionally shovels his neighbour’s sidewalk and might even give a few bucks in December to one of the organizations that sent Christmas mail-outs. His kids are in hockey. He loves his spouse.
No, I said. That’s a cop out.
I wondered what she thought—-that I was attacking her personally—-or if she was clinically breaking down my obvious guilt that stems from years in conservative religion, my fear that comes from the insecurity issues of being the youngest child, my anger from decades of not expressing myself in healthy mediums, and my depression which is induced by the daily watching of my friends dying while my other friends are not even able to give a shit. She was likely doing neither, she is significantly smarter than I.
Because of constant deconstruction of social programs, the development of neighbourhoods that are exclusive in nature, and the importance financial-driven success, being a good person means keeping to one’s self. It means not being an evil person. Not being a murderer, rapist, tax-evader, alcoholic, street worker. Not beating your children or spouse. Not pouring toxic waste into a animal rescue facility. Not bothering your neighbour. Being a good person, by the standards of our colonial, patriarchal society, means staying in line. The fact that my day job exists entirely to remind people of their worth, that they aren’t bad people for needing a shot of morphine everyday by noon, that they aren’t bad people if they fall off the wagon, that they aren’t bad people for being on welfare, that they aren’t bad people for having a culture that precedes the current—-the fact that this day job even exists, shows that good people, in today’s standards, are those with privilege.
I drank a sip from my water bottle, an action steeped in anxiety, done to make me look more natural. After a near hour of discussing my rage, my mind became blurry. By the time we got around to ways I can improve upon myself, I didn’t have the energy to comprehend new ideas. I pretended to take another sip of water from the empty bottle and nodded along with my psychological professional.
Being a good person and treating people well wouldn’t be a cop out if it meant something else. If it means more than smiling in public and not using racial slurs, then it may be enough. Enough to make changes that matter, to staunch the wounds that pour blood into the alleys. But until it does, until the characteristics of being a ‘good person’ include understanding and standing up for those our system have methodically destroyed, being a good person is not enough.
It’s not the fault of the good people that they are good people under the current model of good. We have been gutted and replaced with slop from the machine of individualistic, selfish commercialism. Our jobs don’t allow us the time to give a shit. In order to stay sane, we bask in the glory of our beautiful families and don’t look out the window to the family being kicked to the curb by a police officer, because we legitimately don’t have time, because the Mayor has stricken that topic from discussion in council, because if we do, we’ll get depressed. Good people everywhere don’t know how to participate in a change they want to make, so they rely on posting on internet, or they don’t do anything. I am that kind of good person.
Tonight as I watched city council directly shut down citizen concerns, bully them by calling requests of accountability disrespectful, and promote gun violence as seen on their favourite television shows, I watched a room full of good people fighting for their definition of good. The uninformed relied on tokenism, touching stories, and fear tactics to justify their definition of good, that is, to justify the increase in funding for the organization that protects their privilege. The informed stood up and defended their idea of good, that is, they were willing to understand and stand up for the good people outside of the room who have been trampled by the uninformed, power-protecting policies of racial profiling and bad-person profiling. Everyone was working for their own idea of good. Some of them were just unfortunately, painfully, and dangerously uninformed. I left city hall with a renewed interest in changing our current definition of what makes a good person. How we go about doing that has never been my strength.
I left the psychologist’s office $160 poorer, one-hour later, one vague understanding of fear and guilt, with one empty water bottle. I’m going to have to book another appointment. Or two.
I’m back in school, and I’ve noticed such a big difference from 12 years ago when I was in school. I had no interest in actually being a good student back then… it was just about doing the least that I could possibly do without getting busted by my parents of Mrs McMillan. I think there’s something similar with being a “good person.” A lot people (or maybe all people some of the time) aren’t actually trying to see how much good they can do… they’re just trying to do enough good to avoid the appearance of being bad. It’s like companies like Nestle and Barrick Gold running “Corporate Social Responsibility” programs in the communities where they exploit land and people… but at least they are paving some roads and providing some microloans in the community, right?
I completely understand.
Have you heard of the Icarus project?
I have not. But I quickly browsed their site…
Ok was just wondering, as I like to put it out there because I find there are not many resources on mental health that are created by people with lived experienced and that encourage folks to make their own maps from a variety of perspectives. Though at the same time in my experience with pain and struggling to function I find I am desperate to make sense -whether radical, medical, religious etc… I’d like to me more ok with not knowing in the head.
Anyways thanks for sharing and best with the writing.
Nice piece Nic but I feel that being a good person for the majority of folks is probably a false illusion. I think people should just strive to be people. Human beings are there own genetically modified species both the experiment and the scientist. We have had thousands of years to define those attributes that we have been monitoring, just like labelling a storage unit of carbohydrates on a plant a tuber and deciding we need to make that bigger, we have done the same thing with emotions and have labelled selfless acts as good and decided we need more of that. The problem is that we cant even recreate photosynthesis in a lab to produce something as simple as tuber from scratch from nothing more then a plate of basic atoms. How are we suppose to get a hold of something as complex and abstract as a human emotion.
Basically I think we would all do better as a species if we go out there and try but seriously lower are expectations of what we expect out of something that is impossible to define. You make a good point when you talk about convincing people who have been abused by society that they are good people but I think we would do best if we could convince the world that they are and we all are actually just people. Not good, not bad just products of an experiment. I think we should place more emphasis on the fact that each one of us does have one innate easily defined communality called survival. I’m tired and having a problem making my point more clear but it goes something like this the sooner everyone realizes that we are just existing the less we have to pretend to strive for something. This may sound like not caring, sure but don’t label a dandelion a weed and put a lot of energy into making your lawn free of it. Instead just look at it’s many features and you my find yourself eating it instead and gaining a new food source you never knew you had. Perhaps even make a coffee substitute from the dried dandelion root, but understand that the dandelion was not placed there for you but that doesn’t mean you can’t interact with it as much as possible and find other uses. Life can be more tasty when we eat dandelion heads but not necessarily more good.