Good or Bad?

I don’t believe in good and bad people.  I believe in people.

If I had to rewrite my educational philosophy I would write those two sentences and leave the rest to my teaching… And it’s not certain that I’ll ever teach in a classroom again, but I will certainly have voice students one day.

I have learned a lot of things, but one of the things I loved learning about myself the most was that I don’t believe in good and bad people.  I’ve had so many people ask me, “Is So-n-So a good person?” and my uncomfortable silence should simply have been replaced by the words, “I don’t understand the world of humanity that way.”  What if they had asked me, “Do they exhibit compassion?”  Or what if they had said, “Do you observe cruelty in their nature?”  Those things I could have answered specifically, but to ask me if the sum total of another human is good or bad?  This seems a stretch for any human to know of another person.  Especially when we consider that those capable of causing us the most harm are the humans we love the most.  I have suffered more at the hands of people I loved dearly than at the hands of any stranger or random acquaintance, and it is the random acquaintances people would ask me to judge if they are good or bad.   Not.  Possible.

I also believe that we choose humanity.

Kingdom- Animalia­

Phylum- Chordata

Class- Mammalia

Order- Primata

Family-Hominidae

Genus- Homo

Species- Sapiens sapiens

We are, unquestionably, animals.  We choose to behave towards each other in ways that are NOT natural to the world of animals, though animals can for inexplicable reasons demonstrate empathy, or awareness resembling empathy.  Those moments in which we choose to go against the laws (in Rudyard Kipling’s words) of the jungle are the moments we embrace our humanity.

And perhaps it is in this way that we were made in the image of God—the image of a being that knew how to act other than in the sole interests of its individual survival and well-being.  I am proud to be a person.  I am tired of hearing people justify their rationales for cruelty or vindictiveness because there IS no rationale beyond the human mind.  If all of this is a construction then so are our identities, so are our reasons and means, and so are the ideas that define our reason.

Cogito ergo sum.

I miss teaching people to think beyond their identity because I was doing something much larger than teaching them to sing…

I was encouraging humanity to grow.

I was born a beast and made a human by many loving hands who taught me what it meant to be an inheritor of the human race.  I was taught music by the same people.  I’m not ashamed to say that I loved my students because they were fledgling humans and it was my responsibility to see them through the lessons of my class with their humanity intact, nourished and strengthened.

In the days preceding the season of Epiphany I have been meditating on something written in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol when Jacob Marley says to Ebenezer, “It is required of every man,…that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide; and, if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death.”

I say that we die not once in our lives, but many times because the spirit of man is capable of death confined in its own flesh.  We can feel death many times upon us and we can choose life again.  Our sadness, our grief, the wrongs done against us that we do not forgive, the darkness we remember and carry with us, these things all can rob us of our lives in soul, but if we turn away from them, allow them to die to us then we can be freed of our sorrows and yet be blessed with loving natures.

I have learned this year that there are people who shut themselves away from life and condemn those who live for others.  These people accuse them of not living their lives in a “true” happiness because they are going against what is natural.  But I have learned that, for myself, this is false because I observe that the natural order is not to be human but to behave exactly as animals, and if we embrace that then we are not, indeed, different from animals save for the sophistication of our tools.  Many times I have read about the differences between man and animals, and after all of my reading I observe that the difference (the only difference) is that we believe and act as though there is a difference, but man is an animal, and woman is an animal and together they were born into an bestial world and choose to become human by treating each other with compassion and with kindness beyond what the other might “deserve” of them.

And as for deserving… I don’t believe in that either, but that’s for another blog.

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~ by Rebecca Erickson on December 28, 2011.

2 Responses to “Good or Bad?”

  1. Rebecca, it goes back to labels, ie the good or bad choice. Which in a mulitple choice test shouldn’t we have at least four options? Labels help us quickly and efficiently get to the meat of the issue. I know where you stand if you are Republican, or Christian, or Texan, or whatever label of choice has been affixed. I am not for this mentality, but it is common, if not preferred by the fast trackers. “Give it to me quick and do not exceed a 140 characters.

    And even Adolph Hitler had endearing qualities. He could fire up a room like noboby’s business. (Said facetiously for those who don’t know me.)

    So yes, I can be on board wtih your point that “good or bad” is too ambiguous and generally a worthless assessment. Now if you ask me, ” Would you sit down and have a beer with this person?” That might be more telling. 😉

  2. I couldn’t agree more. Wouldn’t that be an effective way to do it? “Would you have a beer with them/spend an evening chatting with them?” But no… We go after good and bad and those two words are not simply words. They convey metric tons of meaning and those meanings and associations are different for each of us depending on our definitions and experiences. The entire question is strange to me, “Are they good or bad people?” I think the better question is, “Do they act towards the rest of humanity humanely?” But I often don’t hear that one asked…

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