Goodness is hideously boring, banal, unsophisticated and ignorant of the realities of life, among many other things, or at least that’s what I’ve been told as I’ve journeyed on this quest. Not everyone has this attitude, but some do. As I’ve talked to more people about the topic, I’ve begun to hear what some see as the downside of goodness.
First, there’s this problem of one’s mother. Actually, it’s the problem of just about everyone’s mother, who would say: “Be a good girl.” OR “When I take you to the (fill in the blank), be good!” Of course, we all knew what that meant. We were to sit/stand still, be quiet, not fidget, don’t touch, say “please” and “thank you” and do absolutely everything the adults wanted us to do. No running, no jumping, no having fun. If that isn’t soul crushing, I don’t know what is.
Once we grew up, folks of various religious persuasions chanted, wheedled, pleaded, exhorted and screamed at us to drop every notion we had ever had about morality or religion. They yelled at us to ignore every bit of our own life experiences, and to think and act exactly as they did. Because that would make us happy. Because if we didn’t allow them to impose their minds on our brains, we wouldn’t be good, and we would darn well be going to Hell or someplace equally painful, at least according to them.
There’s also the issue of sophistication vs naïveté, and how being concerned about goodness is supposed to be equivalent to being Pollyanna. The character in a 1913 novel was so good and so absurdly optimistic that her name has become synonymous with brain-dead innocence and the inability to see reality. Jack Bauer, for example, is the ultimate anti-Pollyanna.
And then there’s that other definition of goodness, as in: I’ll be good and fulfill all my New Year’s resolutions this year. Other versions of this insidious form of goodness include: I’ll exercise/meditate/pray/write/diet very day! OR I won’t complain/say bad things/use swear words/think bad thoughts for a single day.
I hadn’t thought of this variation on the goodness theme until last week, when a friend turned to me at Sunday brunch and said: “I always try to be good, but I can never make it through more than a few days without falling down on the project.” When I asked what she meant by “good,” she explained that for her “goodness” was the notion that she did everything she thought she was supposed to do. In other words, she thought she was supposed to be an adult version of Mom’s Good Girl, who always ate her vegetables, cleaned her plate, cleaned her room, did her chores, was polite, sweet, quiet, etc, etc, ad nauseam. As an adult this translated into meditating, exercising and following other disciplines she thought were important.
These are certainly all ways we’ve used the word “good,” but are these truly goodness? Does my goodness really depend on whether or not I exercise every day or stay on a diet? My health might depend on that, but I doubt if my goodness does. No matter what we might say when we pop a brownie into our mouths, it really isn’t evil to consume chocolate, and it isn’t good to refrain from eating it.
I have to admit to being a tad worried about how the concept of goodness seems to have gotten twisted in our culture, or am I missing something? Do you agree that goodness has a bad reputation in the western world? If it does, is that justified? Does the concept of goodness have any place in the 21st Century?