Being Good

Let me ask you a question, and please mull this over for a minute. Do you consider yourself to be a good person? I mean, I know you probably aren’t a conniving super-villain, petting your white fluffy cat in a black armchair somewhere, but are you good?

What is it that makes a person “good”? Are these some adjectives that spring to mind? Kind, generous, helpful, honest, selfless, ethical, thoughtful, lovely, or virtuous? And be honest, would you pick any of those to describe yourself?

I guess we all range on the goodness scale somewhere between Gandhi and Hitler. Definitely not saintly, but not certifiably evil either. If I had to put myself under the microscope, I would give “me” a pretty middling score on the scale. I am definitely not bad, but I am also not as good as I could be.

Okay, I’m kind – in that I’m mostly nice, with a few moments of cringe-worthy meanness thrown in. I am honest, mostly because I’m terrible at lying – but there are more layers to being truthful than I care to go into here. The mix that makes up me could use a good dash of generosity and thoughtfulness. For most of my life, it’s not that I’ve meant actively to be not nice to other people, I was just quite self-absorbed, as many of us really are. Being self-absorbed isn’t about being highly conceited or mean-spirited, it just means consistently thinking of how things affect you and not how they affect others. Getting ourselves out of that me, me, me habit is what makes us better people all around, but it can be a struggle.

Becoming a mother knocked a lot of that self-absorption out of me. It’s kind of impossible to continue thinking only of yourself when the most important person in your life is no longer you. My son’s cancer diagnosis quietly removed most of the selfishness that remained. (Note, I didn’t say all.)

The road through treatment revealed to me the innate goodness of so many people I know – the beauty of whom just put me to shame, with my small, self-involved life. Friends and family members both rose brilliantly to the occasion, giving of their time, their thoughts, their attention and their love. And their food. And their Tupperware. Which I’ve never returned. Apologies!

I started thinking about this the other day as I was stuck in hospital with my son, again. (Don’t worry, all is well.) My dear friend, S., came to visit us. S. the Self-Less and Lovely. More than any other friend, she makes it her mission to just help me. She sends me texts and messages – she comes by to visit, she brings coffee and treats. Her own life is busy and far from easy, she and her family have faced down many, many hard times together. She is a wife and mom to two gorgeous kids, she works as a Special-Ed teacher (saintly, yes?), she is a whirlwind of energetic busy-ness. She is the epitome of thoughtful. Last week, I got teary-eyed hearing the story of the latest challenges she has faced with her family. And later on, I thought, What’s my excuse?

We’ve all got our reasons why we can’t do the things we say we would like to. I’m busy, I can’t afford it, I don’t have time, I’ll do it later.

In these first weeks of January, we are making and breaking resolutions of some sort – but most of them have to do with self-improvement. Or what we perceive as self-improvement – dieting and exercise, anyone? It’s occurred to me that maybe I need to expand my horizons a bit.

Maybe my resolutions have to be not about what I can do for myself but about what I can do for others. Maybe I can do good.

That’s why I’m starting A Deed a Day. Today. I want to do something every day (or almost every, come on, nobody’s perfect) that is good. I define good deeds as things I can do to help others, things I can do to help the Earth, and things I can do to be a better person. (Not a better-looking person)

I’d love for you to join me. Let me know your good deeds. Give me some ideas for mine! Let’s see if we can be as good as we could.

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