How Do You Determine If Someone Is Good?

I have been struggling with a question, and an idea, for quite some time. I haven’t written about it because I don’t know how to. But I want to share, so I think I’m going to do something a little different today. I’m going to ask you guys for your opinions, and your ideas.

I’m not convinced I have anyone good in my life – that is, of the people I have relationships with, I don’t think any of them are good people – save for my youngest brother, but the age separating us requires I care for him, not me (a responsibility I take very seriously; although in truth, he’s a great, wonderful, good kid – the only truly ‘good person’ in my life).

Q: How do you go about determining whether someone is good or bad, and why (if it does) does determining that matter to you?

A: I’ll define a good person, basically, as someone capable of doing good things and someone who does good things. I believe what makes someone a good person is their understanding of morality and justice. In order to do good things, you have to understand, broadly, some basic principles of morality. So goodness can be determined by actions and by intentions without actions (where acting wasn’t inhibited by the intentions). I believe morality is a science, and thus we all generally have the ‘capacity’ to do good things, but this is not what I mean when I say ‘the capacity’. I mean the understanding of the basic principles of morality (and understanding beyond declarative statements like ‘don’t hit’) that inform intention; x is right because y. And you can be a good person ‘basically’ even if you can’t always do good things but understand why doing good things is important (intention and understanding). I believe goodness serves a function, and a good person is not dissimilar from a good basketball player, or a good educator. These are aspects to identity, though I believe being a good person is the most important aspect.

I have a rare disease. I’m disabled. I can still walk around, I can still move, and talk, and eat on my own. But I can’t work, I’m not a full-time student, and I can’t enjoy the freedom of just ‘going out’ with friends. Everything in my life is planned, and has to be planned. If I’m going to the store, I need to work my way through my algorithm: am I feeling well, if no, x, if yes y. Do I have a ride, if no, X if yes Y. I have chronic pain, but I also don’t have chronic pain. ‘Chronic Pain’ is a convenient term to use; people understand it, it removes the need for in depth explanations, and it’s socially salient. My disease is genetic in origin, effecting the production of a special protein called Collagen. My joints, muscles, ligaments, lungs, brain, etc, are all in a near constant state of injury. Chronic pain usually refers to persistent pain that has remained after an injury has healed, and cannot be better explained by an injury. For me, though, It just refers to pain in time – a state of existence in pain. When you tell someone you’re ‘in pain’, ‘you’re going to get better’ is an obvious and acceptable conclusion. Most people aren’t acutely ‘in pain’ invisibly in multiple areas in their body. But I am. My joints are always newly injured in unique ways. Although it’s possible I have injuries that have healed and left pain as a type of permanent scar – like having to endure the worst part of a bad moment forever – it’s more appropriate to say that I am acutely injured chronically. But, chronic pain is the object my community chose, so it’s the one I’m sticking with.

I’m getter more ill every month, every week, every day. Its enough to say that I need good people to do good things for me. If you get to know me at all, no matter how distally, you’ll quickly learn how apparent it is that I could use some help; whether that means taking out the garbage when you’re hanging out with me, or helping me lift groceries, or walk the dog, or do the dishes – anything chivalrous, which is perfunctory and kind of un-ethical, helps me a butt-load. Its enough to say that ‘doing good’ things for me should be easy. We’re taught this very basic type of ‘good action’ from the moment we are born. And the criteria for being the very basic kind of ‘good person’ is just doing those very basic ‘good things’. Yet I don’t have anyone in my life who helps me like that at all, and thus who resembles even the very basic and stringent definition of a ‘good person’. And that causes a lot of confusion and damage.

I have always (fortunately) had extraordinary empathetic faculties. One of the sources of discomfort and disorder for my family has always been our shared extraordinary capacity for non-verbal reasoning. We all know nearly precisely what anyone is feeling at any given time; often even before they know. We didn’t have good guidance, or good parents, growing up, and so we’re all very sensitive (although I’m much less sensitive thanks to all the things I’ve had to endure these past few years). Unlike my other family members though, I seem to have been ‘born’ with divergent characteristics of compassion, moral reasoning, and abstract reasoning. Everyone in my family is capable of all three of those characteristics, like all people, but either by nurture, or by some other confounding characteristic, they seem incapable of drawing them out consistently, and when they are needed.

Where my older brother has always been cold and guiltless, I’ve been emotional and guilty. Where my mother is angry and without remorse, I am reasonable and moral. I have not always been this way, and who can say that they too always will be the way they are. (Maybe I’ve just undergone my transformation much earlier than them). And while I cherish that belief dearly, the facts of history cannot be denied. I’m unfortunately just different than most of them. They all have the capacity to be comforting and cheery and fun, but none of them has demonstrated any consistent pattern of ‘good’ behavior – towards me, or amongst each-other.

I am a determinist, so I do not ‘blame them’ in any sort of ‘ultimate religious way’ for their errors, but given the fault in my stars, I do rely on them and cannot divorce myself from them completely. I already feel like I’m being physically torn in two, but I feel like the seams of my personality, my soul, are being torn at every day. I cannot put myself in their shoes anymore. I don’t know why they don’t do what’s right. And with each injustice that over time goes unchecked I lose a bit of myself. To get those bits back I have to go out looking for pain and injustice happening to others, and then mentally right those wrongs in my head. As some bridge across the dissonance living as myself accompanies. To remind myself what’s right and why, so I don’t lose that most important part of me.

If any of you have not watched the show Orphan Black I’d absolutely recommend that you do. There’s this one scene in which this abusive, crazy (I’d label him a captor) guy hands his ‘victim’ a razor and (non-verbally) ‘tells’ her to start cutting herself again. There had been a few scenes previously showing her cutting wings into her back (she thinks she’s an angel or something), but they didn’t have any context. She is this powerful assassin that falls to pieces before this crazy abusive, old-man – her abuser, her captor. The scene where he hands her a blade kind of solved that puzzle for me. That’s why I think good people are necessarily important, why internal monologues are important, and why I look for injustice when I’m ‘out’. So that my moral ideals are not so shattered by the injustice I experience continually, that I actually do my abusers abuse myself.

If you look closely you’ll see this sort of thing everywhere. I see it happen all the time in the chronically-ill community.

Most of us do not maintain an internal dialogue with ourselves throughout our day, every day. We experience many phenomena silently (films, plays, games, conversations etc…) that would be impeded by a running monologue (this is one of the most difficult symptoms of schizophrenia/ psychosis). This monologue/ dialogue usually only turns on when something particularly important is happening, and uniformly when something bad has happened- particularly some injustice or moral wrong or violation of personal rights.  The internal monologue of justice in the context of my-life-as-described is dysfunctional.

We’ve all experienced the internal-monologue-phenomenon. I had a friend in high-school who had a very, well, pronounced internal monologue. Small things like jokes on his behalf, or the almost-angry petty (but implicitly funny) arguments very good friends get into would visibly set off his internal monologue (where some tolerated (and oddly kind of loved) but frustrating behavior or quirk is momentarily put on trial with comic exasperation ). His lips would move, his arms would cross, his head would turn – all of the non-verbal (and occasionally verbal) signs that an actual conversation is taking place. It became a running gag. We would piss him off just to see him talk to himself. He couldn’t drop the conclusions of those monologues. He would always say ‘okay lets just drop it, it’s whatever‘. But then I’d catch him “talking” to himself in a corner, and he’d eventually bring the issue to our attention again.  There is a context in which engaging your pain with an internal monologue of justice is functional. It is important to the maintenance of your moral beliefs to have an internal monologue when the facts of an experience clash with what you believe to be right or wrong. When you suffer some injustice, and that injustice is never called into question, you need to make sense of that injustice and answer those questions. If you don’t you risk, a) pain by confusion and ambivalence and losing truths vital to the stability of the life you live and, b) the understanding that what happened to you was wrong – and thus, the moral belief that subsumes that understanding.

I hate that my mother abandoned me. But I don’t have anyone in my life telling me that what she did was wrong, and that I have every right to feel badly. And I’m left dealing with that pain, alone. And the internal monologue hasn’t been enough because we’re told that we’re not allowed to be ‘important or precious’, or valuable or that feeling special is un-virtuous or un-stoic and yet our moral ideas require that we view human life as special, and the good actions require us to treat everyone but ourselves as important. For me that internal monologue, it’s like being apart of some reinforcing cycle. We’re all basically special and important, and valuable, but I’m told to ‘suck it up’ when I need confirmation; when everything desperately depends on that confirmation that I’m not some dispensable piece of shit, because I don’t have those objects in my life affirming my value. So I do, and I ‘overcome’ those feelings – or at least the period in which those feelings are raw. Though it’s better to say that I become numb to those feelings, and to what they refer. And some months later I heard a person on-line talk about how their mother abandoned them and I didn’t feel sympathy or the need to comfort them and agree with them. I had developed a whole different set of tools to cope in this new version of my life; I didn’t just overcome not having a mom, I had to overcame the idea of not having a mom. One of the ways I did that was by telling myself “having a mom doesn’t really matter”.

I don’t have any good people in my life, and that frustrates me. It also makes living much more difficult.


5 thoughts on “How Do You Determine If Someone Is Good?

  1. It really is a shame that you don’t have anyone in your life that is really willing to help you out, especially considering your circumstances. Thank you for writing this post and reminding me of what’s important. You seem like such a strong and intelligent person. I hope someone will come alongside you because you deserve it 🙂 I’m here for you if you need some virtual assistance (for what it’s worth)


    • Thanks I appreciate it. My needs have changed as I’ve had time to settle in to this kind of isolation, or loneliness or whatever. I get to learn a lot about our need for socialization, and how much of the faculties we believe reside inside the loneliest part of our souls are produced and regulated by social interaction. I just wish I didn’t have so much drama sometimes. I wouldn’t change my life entirely, perhaps just moments.


  2. I appreciate the sentiment and the thoughts. But there is no more bravery in my optimism than there is in yours, or anyone’s. My claim to well-being within what most would call a least convenient life engenders doubt, and I understand that doubt. But there are no affectations of bravery or heroism or even understanding in my world. I live beyond the constraints of the social life. Few people understand that. But I believe few people understand anything about living life beyond familiarity. Its only by social convention that my type of life is devalued (the experience I mean, not me). We define courage by its remedial affects, for example; ‘the courage of a lion’. But if you are meaning to learn something about courage you should ask questions of the person who feels the most afraid. We define people by their perceptually salient information. But if you are meaning to learn something about them you need to look deeper than that. I love myself, i love my life, and I love my broken body. I’ve learned more about living and about myself in loss and in flux than I would have ever learned otherwise. I’m not given to generalizations normally, because probability and stuff, but I mean that’s a generalizable truth. We discover everything else by experimenting at the border of the unknown, but, well, life. I mean, I could go on and on . And that’s sort of my plan writing here. Just don’t feel bad for me. You can wish me better, but I don’t want you to empathize with some construction of my life, or me, that just doesn’t exist. I’m perfectly cool living and dying like this. It’s a trip, if nothing else.


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