What it means to be each one — and what “good” offers overall
I believe that people are fundamentally good. And I believe that being a good person is fundamentally simple — the Golden Rule, if nothing else; doing unto others as we would have done unto us.
I think people and dogs have this thread in common. Both are fundamentally good.
But sometimes, either one can lose their way.
I grew up in a typical, upper middle-class suburban neighborhood, and everyone, it seemed, had a lab. (Or, for the real alternative, adventurous types, a Golden or Chesapeake Bay.) And all of these dogs were, of course, good. Dogs’ entire existence is bred and hard-wired for our work and pleasure. And even with the occasional annoyance, or accident, or mistake, they are, for the most part, fundamentally good creatures.
Apart from Aly.
Aly belonged a happy family of five, complete with three well-behaved, great kids, all elementary school-aged and ideal for labrador love. I personally babysat them, my mother was good friends with their mother, and on a whole the entire neighborhood, us included, could attest to how kind-hearted they all were. They had had Aly since she was a puppy, had done an honest job of raising and training her, and for all intents and purposes, Aly had the perfect situation to love, and be loyal, and maybe, on occasion, make them laugh. In other words, be a lab.
But instead, Aly was aggressive. She refused all efforts of play or affection, sulking under or behind furniture and lunging, teeth bared, when any of her family members approached her. No amount of patience or love or professional training would resolve the issue. And when she finally bit the children one too many times, breaking skin, the family finally had to make that hard decision.
Professional “dog whisperer” Cesar Millan will tell you that “there are no bad dogs, only bad owners.” And I agree. But I think even he can submit that sometimes, one in every 100 bazillion cases, there’s a single, broken dog that has just “lost his wiring” somewhere along the way.
And sometimes this happens with people, too.
The difference between animals and people, of course, is that we choose our thinking and behavior.
I once inadvertently dated a codependent. I didn’t know going in what a codependent was, and it’s hard to explain how this happens, but the long and short of it is: you don’t know what you don’t know, and abuse at the hands of a codependent looks an awful lot like what we’re told is “love.”
This guy was obsessed with being a “good boyfriend.” It might sound good on the surface, but this obsession drove the guy to aggressive levels of preoccupation, where he would snap to frothing fury over minor misconceptions, misunderstandings, mixed messages, or meaningless shit.
“Why can’t you just be happy?!” He would snarl when I was standing neutral and not smiling in an elevator.
“Why don’t you appreciate anything I do?!” He’d lunge, teeth bared, when I gently asked if he remembered to pick up milk or suggested doing brunch on Sunday.
“Do you realize how good you have it?! A lot of women would kill for this!” He would snap whenever I tried to talk about it.
I reassured him continuously that he was a “good boyfriend.” Like, literally dozens of times every day. We “joked” — darkly — about how often he “needed” to hear this. Not that it helped. No matter the patience and love and “working on it,” the issues went on.
He lashed out with revenge, threats, resentment and manipulation, resorting to the ugliest things in the book to make up for his perceived position.
Finally I’d had enough and broke things off. And I finally told him: “you are not a good boyfriend.” I said this flatly and as a statement of fact; not as an insult but from a place of tough love. Because he truly didn’t see this. He truly believed that one-sided efforts alone made him “good,” despite the ugliness behind those intentions. And that disconnect was hard.
He didn’t understand that in order to be a good partner, you have to be a good person. There are other things, of course, required to be a truly great partner, but being a good person gets you a good part of the way.
And being a good person means having a whole, stable, loving heart.
Good man (or woman)
Discussions of goodness in terms gender are odd. The minute anyone starts talking about “good man” and “good woman,” I started getting that “sexism-itchiness”
I was once discussing the topic of marriage with a friend, and she asked if I intended to marry my then-boyfriend (different guy than the codependent.)
“Oh, I’m not sure.” I said, my ambiguity more regarding the topic of marriage than this dude in particular. But she replied, undeterred:
“Is he a good man?”
“Yeah,” I said. Because he was — and probably still is.
“Then marry him.” She said.
This, from a girl who once wrote off a date after not liking his nose. l-o-fucking-l.
This aside, she did have a good point on the topic of goodness alone. One should strive to marry a good person; doing so can go a long way in the success of a relationship.
But “goodness” isn’t gendered. It’s not a matter of “as a man or woman.” That’s not to say I won’t say that my father or current partner are “good men,” because they both decidedly are. But they’re also very good people. And happen to be men. And that’s enough.
Being a good man is the same as being a good woman, and it’s all the same foundation as being a good partner and a good person. It largely just involves having a good heart.
Good heart — and damn good love
The whole point here is:
- People, for the most part, are wired to be good. We are social creatures with good hearts, and most of us are fully capable of goodness and good love.
- There are the occasional lost souls with “broken wiring.”
- Sometimes the broken can be helped. But sometimes they can’t. And when they can’t, we have to make finalizing, hard decisions.
- But being bitten doesn’t make us broken, and shouldn’t darken our own hearts in response. We can still go on to find — and strive to be in ourselves — a good person, and a good partner.
Because most of us out there are, I believe, fundamentally good. Most of us have — and can love with — good hearts.