How good is good?
I hate to be a topic biter, but they touched on a good one yesterday on another blog that I just recently started reading, A Belle In Brooklyn……. soooo chomp chomp. The topic was defining good. It stemmed from the question “Is a good black man still hard to find” then progressed into “how do you define a good black man” or a good man or heck a good person period. They used the examples of Tiger Woods and Matthew Knowles, both of whom are now known to have committed multiple indiscretions in their marriages, and tried to parse out whether their being bad husbands made them bad men. While a few pointed out that it’s possible for a good person to make big mistakes and learn from them and become better, most commenters quickly decided that Knowles and Woods were not good men because of their actions. One commenter really got people thinking, however, when they replaced Tiger and Matthew with Martin Luther King. Things get a little tougher to parse out when you throw another alleged adulterer, who also happens to be one of the greatest black leaders in American history, into the mix. The topic really got me to thinking about exactly what good is to me, how I should identify it in another person, and how I should apply it to myself. Good seems like such a simple word but it’s surprisingly difficult to define especially when you try to apply the word good to people. Now that I think about it good is hard to define when you apply it to a slice of pizza too, as was evidenced by a conversation I had on that subject yesterday. I’m a fan of NY style while a friend of mine is a fan of deep dish and let’s not even go there with toppings and crust. Anyway back on topic…..
I could sit here and rattle off a list of positive, and sometimes equally difficult to define, traits that I think a good person should have (honesty, integrity, strength of character…blah, blah, blah…) but I’d probably accomplish little more than putting you to sleep before you got to the end of the list. And after all that defining what happends if a person who possesses all of those characteristics 98.7% of the time slips up? Do they have to turn in their Good as Gold Club membership card? What if they slip up twice? Or what if they slip up in a REALLY big way? The only way I can think of, considering my lack of supernatural omnipotence, to determine whether a person is good is through observing their actions. But does a bad action make an otherwise good person a bad person? And if one bad action doesn’t do it then how many does it take before a person goes from being good to being Earl Simmons ?
Isn’t it also true that there’s no such thing as a perfect and infallible person? If a bad action (or two or eleven) erases one’s classification as good then how could good people even exist? And how can other flawed people even judge whether another person is good? Trying to sort all of this out started to make my head throb just a little on the left side so I decided to stop thinking so hard. Then I remembered that I hadn’t had anything to drink and that dehydration causes headaches so I grabbed a bottled water and put my thinking cap back on. But I still can’t quite get this one sorted out.
I try really hard to be a good person. Actually let me stop lying cuz good people shouldn’t lie. I don’t try all that hard at it, but I hope that the vast majority of the the actions that I take naturally are such that I can maintain my status as a card carrying member of the overall decent human being club. And while what other people think of me is truly none of my business, I like to think that most people who have ever been a witness to my aura would agree with the assessment that I’m a good person. But does my self assessment that I’m overall a good person qualify me to determine another person’s goodness. And should a good person be trying to judge other people anyway?
After all this thinking I’m still as befuddled as I was when I started this post. The best thing I can come up with is a touch of inane common sense advice, so file my next few sentences under things Captain Obvious would say. Anyhoo
the best I have is try to be the best person you can be despite the fact that perfection is unatainable. And since we’ve established that perfection is unattainable maybe we should all have a little empathy for other people when they fall a little short of our expectations of perfection.
Regarding the question that started the whole discussion on the blog I bit this topic from, I think that bit of captain obvious advice I gave can be applied in that search for a “good black man”. I’m not saying compromise your standards…I kinda touched on that in a previous post….but it might be a good idea to evaluate whether you’re expecting a level of perfection that is unattainanable in that “good black man”. With all that being said, I kinda hate when other people give me whack advice like I just gave because my problem is usually exactly the opposite of setting my expectations too high. But it’s not always about me…not even on my own blog….