Recently, I’ve been reflecting on the concept of being a good man (or woman, or person, but man being my experience it was helpful to think in those terms). Specifically, I imagined a scenario where somebody said, “You’re a good man” and what my response would be if it was a context appropriate for a discussion of philosophy. Note: I have had that said to me before, so it’s not entirely in a vacuum.
I think if someone said I was a good man, I’d have to respond: Yes and no. I do consistently choose the good over the bad, which isn’t to say that I’m perfect at doing so, but that the pattern overall is a of choosing the good. So in that sense I’m good. Yet the ability to choose the good over the bad comes with an intimate knowledge of the bad within me, from reaching an understanding with it, and from accepting it so as to gain mastery over it. In other words, because I know that I am no better than anyone else, I can choose the good over the bad–but the instant I think I’m better, my ability to perceive what is good becomes clouded and obscured.
That was what my initial thoughts were, but as I reflected further and prayed to God about it, I realized that my hesitancy to say I am a good man, to accept my goodness, comes more from fear than anything else. For where I initially saw a distinction between good action and good inner nature, I realized that was most likely false. Everybody has a mix of good and bad within them, and constantly chooses which way to go. Arguably, the bad part of my inner nature is stronger than others, but I still consistently choose the good. And if I do so consistently choose the good, despite a great temptation to the bad, what other standard of goodness is there?
So why am I so hesitant to accept my goodness? I believe there are a few different reasons. Firstly, I fear the danger of hubris. It took me a long time to find the confidence levels I have now–before I was always overconfident or underconfident. Even now, I’m not entirely sure I’ve got it right, but it is more balanced than it ever has been before. Yet I fear that if I accept my goodness, I will become overconfident in my goodness and thus by accepting it, lose it! And that is a difficult fear to shake. Secondly, while I cannot judge with accuracy the inner natures of others, I am very aware of my own, and of how much bad I have inside me. It thus seems dishonest to identify as good, when I know how bad I have the potential to be. Finally, there is a Christian practice of asking oneself which facet of God one identifies with: the Lover, the King, the Lamb, the Healer, etc. Many times one will find out a lot about themselves by answering that question. For me, I have always been attracted to the Suffering Servant, and indeed suffering servants are often the characters in fiction I identify with the most–figures like King Arthur, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Qui-Gon Jinn speak to me on a fundamental level because I see the suffering in them. Thus, for me, I question how much seeing myself as the good and beloved child of God reassures me–I derive a great deal of reassurance from being a servant of God, who suffers greatly in his faithful service.
Yet, while there are good and honest reasons to be cautious of accepting my goodness, I also know that I have a tendency to be hard for myself, and I believe if God had one wish for me, it would be that I forgive and love myself more. So I have resolved to try to be MORE accepting of my goodness, even if I can’t reach a state of full acceptance at this juncture. I encourage you all to contemplate whether you accept your goodness, and if you don’t to consider accepting it just a little bit more.