Why Is Goodness Uncool?
December 17, 2012
At a restaurant, upon discovering that I was a vegetarian, that I rarely drank alcohol, an acquaintance stared at me in mock horror. “Here I am ordering steak and booze, I feel so corrupt.” He was being funny, but I suspect there was some truth in his humour. This may be the reason why I have many acquaintances, but so few genuine friends.
I remember being told many years ago that goodness was like honey, it is more attractive than physical beauty. I was assured that people will flock to me once my goodness matured. But that was said some twenty years ago. I am generally liked by people, but they maintain a respectful distance. Could it be that people are intimidated by goodness?
Back in 1964, when Mary Poppins declared she was “practically perfect in every way” — that was cool. It cemented Julie Andrews as an icon of virtue. Fast forward forty years to the downfall of Martha Stewart, who was vilified as “the woman who does everything better than you.” People practically danced on the streets when she was convicted and jailed. Her attentiveness and sense of discovery came across as the ultimate know-it-all. And who would befriend one of those?
I wonder if all people who work at self-improvement give off a holier-than-thou vibe? If your hobbies are helping others, well then that is not hip. Today Ned Flanders is the foil for Homer. His job is to make Homer’s selfishness seem endearing.
But then we live in a time when our heroes not only have feet of clay, but we insist upon it. Celebrities of old were not only expected to look perfect, but behave perfectly as well. Can you imagine if Audrey Hepburn had leaked a sex tape? Or if Cary Grant had had repeated run-ins with the law? Today there seems to be a social schadenfreude about raising up a celebrity or president on a pedestal, then collectively pushing him off. It is almost as though their humungous imperfections make us feel better about our own smaller ones.
And why not? It is far less work to feel good by delighting in others’ misfortunes. Being attentive to your flaws and then rooting them out is arduous. Not for the lazy or faint-hearted. While do-it-yourself home improvement stores are ubiquitous, do charm schools still exist even? Are elocution teachers extinct? Would an updated version if Emily Post’s Guide To Good Manners ever compete with Fifty Shades of Grey?
In the coming new year as people make resolutions, I wish for them to be more accepting of goodness. I realize people resent being judged. And I admit, sometimes those who are working on goodness may be tempted to feel morally superior. But if you are constantly working on your flaws, you are so aware of them that you can’t help stay grounded.
Is it perhaps that people who strive to always do the right thing are more prone to being snitches? Perhaps. We do find it harder to understand others addictions or unwillingness to help themselves.
However, being self-awareness leaves no room for comparisons with others because it is about deep empathy with everyone–a feeling of there but for the grace of God go I. Awareness means also being alert to moral condescension. I suspect the real problem might be that we become for mirrors for others, it makes them self-conscious. And people no longer look inwardly. Following your own conscience is out-of-date. People are unaccustomed to looking at themselves. If they see what they don’t like, they blame the mirror.
I don’t believe I am judgmental but I do feel the need to be vigilant for my safety. A mild, open manner invites bullies and con-men. They assume we are dupes though they could not be more wrong. Perhaps this vigilance is misconstrued as judgmental, sanctimonious? Although it is far from it.
In large cities good neighborliness is now suspicious. If you inquire after the people in your apartment floor, they wonder if you are ‘an interfering busybody’. And heaven forbid you should show friendliness toward their children. I recall sitting across from a mother and small boy on the bus going home. The child was no more than three or four, he was drowsy and the mother was distracted. When she finally realized her son was looking for a snuggle, I smiled at the scene. The mother fixed me with stare warning me off. I understood her point of view. There are men about who molest children, but at the same I felt very sad that we live in self-defense all of the time. I now only show affection towards the dogs of my neighbors.
I suppose we get taken for granted. People assume we will be there when they need us because that is what good people do. We are the reliable stand-bys in life, never the featured players. No efforts need to put forth with our friendship because we are ‘low maintenance’.
Well, that is enough self-pity for now. And self-pity is definitely not cool.