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Even while writing the title of this blog, I thought to myself, “Really, Karen, there are no bad people?” I could feel the pull of wanting to make that damning appraisal: He’s bad or she’s just no good. But, truth is, that approach is not a very effective, sophisticated or enlightened way of thinking about the world or ourselves.
We are primitive beasts at heart, tribal and territorial: People are either friend or foe and to survive we’d better know the difference. Humans developed this approach when life was rife with danger. Sure, now, occasionally you hear footsteps behind you late on a dark night and feel frightened. But generally we don’t need to make snap judgments about whether someone will make us feel safe or sorry. Our lives are more nuanced.
We learn this all-nothing way of assessing others in childhood. If our parents saw themselves as good or bad, we thought that these were the only choices in viewing people. If they viewed others as either-or, we assume that we also should categorize people that way. If our parents treated us as if we were one way or the other, we likely ended up lumping ourselves on one extreme of the spectrum or the other.
When we think in solely good-bad people terms, that applies to us as well. If someone else is all one way or another, aren’t we also viewed that way in their eyes? Do you want to be judged as good or bad? I certainly don’t. I might have better or worse moments, but don’t want to be stuck in a category because of them. Here’s why: If people see me as a “good” person, that means I can’t ever make mistakes or fail because that automatically makes me “bad.” And vice versa. If they see me as a “bad” person, that means that all of the positive things I do count for nothing. Moreover, not only do they see me that way, I end up viewing myself that way.
All of us are a composite of pluses and minuses. Even our personality traits transcend good or bad. Someone who’s always prompt makes for a great employee but could be a pain in the butt if you’re married to them because they’re always hurrying you up. We’re all a mish-mash of positive and negative even if we don’t think we are or wish to be. Moreover, what I think is marvelous in someone you might think is horrid.
The “good person” is a myth. There is no such thing. No one has ever been all good or will ever be. You might think there are people, Hitler, for instance, who are all “bad,” pure and simple. But he wasn’t born bad and must have suffered to become as awful as he was. If he wasn’t born bad, he was simply a product of nature and nurture, as we all are. None of you are “bad” nor should you try to be “good.” Just work at being human.
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