One time a cousin of mine, while discussing her college plans said she wanted to get a degree in philosophy. Usually I’m all for doing what interests you, but even I couldn’t resist snorting into my soda and telling her that philosophy was probably the only major even more useless than English.
And I said that having an English major, Eng Literature minor and a concentration in Creative Writing. So I consider myself a bit of an expert.
Still, I might have missed a calling since I was always interested in big, complex questions with no answers that eventually drive everyone involved to drinking. So…
Today Jen noticed my “Sarcasm is one of my many talents” t-shirt and commented that, for all the sarcastic t-shirts I wear (I do have quite the collection) that I’ve never been anything but kind and cheerful. “And gentle.” Rebecca chimed in.
“Don’t believe it. It’s all lies.” I hiss at them, already settling into my usual seat in the studio. Didn’t realize until later that I didn’t specify which part was the lie: my t-shirt or my cheerfulness.
Talk like that, compliments…I never felt comfortable with it, but I’d like to think I handle it better than I used to. At least I don’t hyperventilate or try to break out a 50-point slideshow arguing whatever good point the person decides to see in me. But it still feels wrong on some level, because I don’t think of myself as a good, kind, or gentle person. It’s not self-esteem thing, really (and YES I know how it sounds). It’s more a “what makes a person ‘good’ in the first place?” thing.
Over the course of my life I’ve done kind things and I’ve done supremely shitty and selfish things. But apparently I’m well-liked. People tell me that I’m a good person. Even Jen said once that when she mentions me to some of the staff they just smile – though when you live in a building that houses a fair share of unstable people, it’s not rocket science how to get on the staff’s good side. It’s not that I’m actually a good person; it’s really that they’ve only seen good things from me. Plus something about my face makes people assume silly things, which I find endlessly hilarious, but in the end it’s presentation and that is controllable.
So yeah, at least in terms of myself, I don’t connect doing kind things with being a kind person. I know why I do things usually. I do kind things when it suits me. I’m kind when it doesn’t cost me anything, or when it costs very little. I’m kind to people who I like or who interest me. I do kind things for my own benefit. Does that make me a kind person? I don’t think it does. Abusers can act kindly to everyone except the person they’re abusing, does that somehow make them good people anyway? Is it the act or the intention or something else that makes a person good or kind?
But it goes both ways, doesn’t it? Obviously until telepathy becomes a thing, I have to take other people’s actions at face value and I’ve been repeatedly awed by Jen’s persistent kindness to the tenants in and out of the building’s art room. It’s hard to keep my brain from making a goddamned saint out of her, because she acts with such earnest sincerity and openness toward people that it just blows me away. But she’s a person. I don’t know how far her kindness goes when she’s not in the building (though I’m 99% sure that it still goes a lot further than mine) or if, knowing the little bit of background as I do, she grapples with it like I do.
Either way, she makes a choice to act as kindly as she does and goes above and beyond the bare minimum of lip service (I’m a lazy fucker, so I know bare minimums). If kindness is something intrinsic to a person, like a compulsion, that that’s all fine and nice, but making kindness a consistent choice has to be the harder path.
Maybe that’s it; picking the harder thing to do is what makes a good person. Though, I don’t do hard things, so it’s probably good that I don’t have much emotional investment in being good.