Goodness is a rather underrated idea. Like our health, it is something we tend to take for granted, until we lose it, or have to try living without it. It is much maligned, and sometimes reported not to exist. Anti-heroes bring in more money at the box office these days than white hat heroes. I’m not sure we even believe in white hats anymore. We identify with the less than perfect rogues a bit more than with the defenders of truth and justice. We’ve grown weary of seeing those who supposedly promote Truth and Justice act like overgrown children. Real goodness seems like an unattainable pipe dream. Why bother anyway? Don’t nice guys finish last?
Somebody has to bother. Even if it does mean finishing last. What kind of world do we want our next generation to be raised in? Do we want to tell them not to bother? That it’s too hard? Should we tell them that the world is hard, and they need to be just as hard to survive?
What would Fred Rogers do? Mr. Rogers should be canonized as a saint. I don’t care what religion does it. It’s not about religion. It’s about goodness. He grew up with a new technology entering his household, and he wasn’t happy with what it brought. Instead of ranting and protesting, he decided to offer something positive to the new medium. He told the children that they were special and they were loved. He told them they had value. He addressed the problems they might face in their everyday lives in a positive way. He gave them the subtle ammunition needed to fight back against the hardness. The Taoists would say that the soft overcomes the hard. Every time he put on his sweater, he was fighting a war of the heart with soft words and friendly smiles. A look into his private life revealed that he was still Mr.Rogers even off the set. There were no dirty secrets hidden out of view. Mr. Rogers was a white hat hero. They do exist.
So what does it take to become one? As with most things in life, that’s easier said than done. First, you need to decide that it’s a worthwhile thing to be. As I mentioned above, these days it’s practically fashionable to devalue goodness. Who even wants to be called a goody-two-shoes? Or a fluffy white-lighter? No, it’s not fashionable at all. The cool kids are out having fun being jerks and even getting praised for it, usually by other jerks. They even tell each other that being a jerk is a good thing because it teaches people a lesson. Usually the lesson involves how to be a better jerk.
Once upon a time, I was an active member of a forum. It wasn’t even a pagan forum. The general culture was one of jerkitude. Newcomers were interrogated by seasoned veterans. Any weakness displayed was subject for further attack. Only those who could get past the hazing stuck around in the community. The veterans thought it was a good thing to drive away those who were not “mature” enough to be associated with them. They treated new people like unwanted trash, not like potentially valuable contributors. No one was willing to take new people by the hand and help them. I eventually left that community, not because I couldn’t handle the hazing. Quite frankly, my net-fu is strong. No, I left because I realized that I was starting to become one of the jerks. I could smell blood in the water from a mile away. Simply being in that environment was changing me and not for the better. I wanted to be a good person, but I couldn’t do it as long as I stayed there. It really doesn’t matter what forum this was, because I’ve seen the same story repeated all over the internet, in many different types of communities. Fighting with the jerks is not the answer. I’ve tried that. I turned into one of them.
WWFRD? He followed the idea of doing good things, and continuing to do them, over and over. He did them consistently and repeatedly, like water wearing away a stone. None of those things individually amounted to much, but over the years, his cumulative efforts meant a lot to children who needed to hear his message, that they were loved, and they were worthy of love. If you truly have a sense of your value, you don’t need to go all “special snowflake” and brag about it. The “special snowflakes” actually need more love, not less. Even the jerks need love. They need to be told that they’re strong on the inside too, like the little boy mentioned in the Esquire article linked above.
There is a better way of talking to people. I’d like to learn about what that way is. I’ve gotten it wrong many times. I’d like to wear a white hat too. I’m still working on it. Changing your ways doesn’t happen overnight. It takes consistent effort.
If you have more ideas about what being a good person means, please do post them in the comments.
Edit: Fixed the article link.