A life that is good is a life towards one’s own betterment and happiness whilst still maintaining the wellbeing of others. The trick of course, is in the details. Some peoples’ happiness would require my destruction. Some peoples’ happiness would be easier to obtain through ways that are psychologically harmful to me. Sometimes happiness of one kind is seemingly essential to one person—romance or sex for example—is totally unnecessary to another. Some people cannot imagine love without sex, and some people are asexual. Some people cannot imagine happiness without romantic love, and some people are aromantic. Some people cannot imagine happiness—or even goodness itself—without god and some people are atheists. And so on.
A good life for me is a life making reasonable progress towards my own perfection, and maintaining compassion for others and my imperfection. A good life is a happy one of intellectual productivity combined with being capable of self-support. Work that is not boring, but work nonetheless. Forgiving my errors, and constantly working towards intellectual, empathetic and artistic betterment. To paint, and draw, and write well. A good life for me is one of polyamory, of many consenting loves who care for each other. A life of community, wherein commitment and possession do not happen to be interlocked. A life where jealousy is manageable and well handled. Where love is freely given, and pain compassionately cared for. A good life to me maintains a good balance between being very social and with plenty of times for contemplation, writing and making other forms of anti social creation. Where people are involved and present quite a bit, but not always. Where I can be dedicated to work that truly matters either artistically or to the world.
All thoughts have thus far been on what would be pleasurable. I think that there are at least two kinds of goodness in people. Good-happy and good-moral. I think that being a moral person is to be a person purposefully choosing to be a better person than they previously were. A nice person who is naturally very friendly but choses not to improve themselves may not be as morally right as a naturally mean person who works very hard to be better. For me, that does not mean that I will always even Like people based on their morality, for some people will just naturally click better with me. I chose not to take in people who I find abrasive, because I know that I am not obligated to feel any particular way about people, I don’t have to like good people. I try to also ignore people who I like who I think are doing badly enough to be harmful either by influence or actively. Again, balance is important, it is necessary for me to find people in my life who are both likable to my standards and good.
I am not fully sure though, how much I believe this. It seems so logical, right? Enough choices not to better oneself and then bad. Enough good choices = good. Simple.
But… people are so complicated. I am not sure I believe in natural goodness or badness, but I am far more likely to judge someone poorly if they are hurtful to me personally or some things I think are important. Anyone I view as unadaptive, sexually/expression-repressive who puts those ideals onto others or their children I immediately dislike and think of as bad humaning/parenting, but technically as long as said person was working to what in their eyes was betterment, this person could still be good by my little equation.
I think repression of pleasure, freedom, and particularly expressiveness is automatically bad. But people who are kind, adaptive and accepting of people who do not necessarily have all of the same qualifications for such things, even if they are themselves very conservative, are still perfectly likable. Even, good.
I spent a long while trying to come up with universal rules for such things, and ignoring the emotions around it and trying to devise an absolute that made the most sense as much of the time as possible. I think I have to rethink all of it. Life is much more fluid and nuanced than I previously wanted to acknowledge or deal with. We can not be reduced to a set of variables that when solved for X equates what good behavior is. Different things are good or bad at different times for different people.
I think that a good life for others is one in which they do not feel shame for what is natural to them whilst still maintaining consideration for other people. Even if that consideration means, “I will simply always upset this person, so we will never be close friends, Them constantly upset at my natural being and me constantly annoyed” or whatever. I think a good life is one in which one attempts to minimize the harm they do to others, and do good for people. Very much including themselves. I think a good life is a balance between striving towards betterment and forgiveness for mistakes. I think when I found a person to have truly failed is when their mistakes too vastly outweigh the rest of their goodness.
I can love the addict, but if for years that person has done nothing but destruction and swallowing others alive, I can find that their badness is too much. They have become bad. Which is not to say they can never be good again, but that possibility may never be. But if addiction is an illness, can they ever be justified as bad? Can I simply cut them off anyway, for my own betterment, even knowing they are not bad. Just sick, and beyond my ability to help?
I am a good person because I choose to accept things that make me uncomfortable about others but are not harmful to other people. I am a good person because I choose to better my artistic ability and communicative interpersonal skills and life. I am pretty bad at improving my student/professionalism, but I am a good student because I try to, despite this. I recognize this in part because I believe it to be true, and also because as such I must acknowledge it to take care of my heart. To make sure I feel guilt and not shame. To think “I do badly sometimes”, rather than “I am a bad person”.
Perhaps that is in some ways rationalizing. Perhaps I value change and not dedication because that is what is more natural to me. My father once told me that everyone thinks they are good. Particularly that people who do evil do not think they are doing evil. I agree, somewhat, that there are plenty of people who steal, or kill, or rape, and believe themselves to be good nonetheless. Then again, how many of such people do I really know? Pure speculation I suppose. I’ve met at least one sociopath though, and it seems to me it is not so much that ze believes zerself to be good so much as ze does not care about emotions.
Anyway. All people think they are good? This is not my experience. I think lots of people think very poorly of themselves. I idolize and demonize myself simultaneously, and I have not found this to be particularly unique to me. I strive to see myself balancedly, but continually find I will afford others far more forgiveness than I ever afford myself. Even when I can manage it, I wonder if it would not be better for me to maintain my harshness to keep me striding ever forward. Working always towards unhavable perfection and hating not being quite there yet. Thinking of myself as a paper I must perfectly edit until every word, letter, punctuation mark and space is perfectly place. But knowing should I ever look at it again there will always be more to fix.
And is it really so bad to have a few warts one doesn’t feel the need to pluck? I strive for kindness but not necessarily perfect American manners. I think I simply won’t. So what does that mean in the scheme of things? Skills I could improve but instead accept too. How rarely I reflect on those. It is a useful, and wonderful, scope I cover. But Narrow too. I don’t have to be as perfect at scientific reasoning as I am at writing. I don’t have to be as polite as I am kind. But by my value-placing judgments, is not improving universally a flaw of my character? I certainly don’t generally think so. In fact that very concept makes me want to remind myself of the standard that males are allowed endearing flaws and females are not, and not to fall into the trap giving myself more guilt fodder by validating the thought I’m allowed no wrinkles.
What is the alternative to my moral black/white guide? If I do not devise a way to judge things, then I must simply go by feel. And people choosing morality by feeling often choose wrong. Judge things simply because they do not identify with it. Straight people judging gays, gays judging bisexuals, bisexuals judging trans* folk, trans* folk judging otherkin and on and on and on. We all have to face our biases, and allowing “I just feel it’s wrong” to be too compelling is often what leads to such things. There may be a land in the middle, wherein I go mostly by high brain compassion and listen to my feelings as well.
Or maybe the criteria should get shortened even more. Compassion. But even then, some people or born without it. Is the sociopath incapable of goodness? If they are incapable of other, does “bad” they might do have any meaning at all? It must, they’re still people, right? But if it is caused by illness…? But ones sicknesses are still a part of them. Sometimes irrevocably so.
Maybe I just don’t want to accept that this is a possibility. I want to think all people are capable of goodness, but maybe they are not. Maybe some are born without that potential. That doesn’t feel right to me. But when has the universe ever been fair? There is great ugliness too reality. Not all of which I can handwave away with “even destruction is beautiful”.
It’s all so subjective. It’s all so personal. Yet so a part of action, culture, and life and death.
“If you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” If you can’t do better, at least try not to do worse. If you can’t care, at least don’t be cruel.
Six pages, but I think that’s the best I can do.