02 August 2018

On Being Good

Of all of the repetitive questions I ask myself – and there are many; I am essentially a very tall toddler – “Am I Good?” comes up the most frequently. Notice the capital G in Good; one “o” away from God, a very Catholic Capitalization if ever there was one.

I have an undergraduate degree in Philosophy with a particular focus in ethics, and am about to embark on a masters’ degree in the same. In between I studied law, which, contrary to popular belief, does in fact require at least some grasp of ethical theory. It’s the early Catholic upbringing, though, coupled with an emotionally abusive father who cultivated a near pathological terror of being in trouble, that triggered this lifelong questioning. The degrees were an afterthought, a terribly failed attempt to find an actual answer (although clearly the failures were insufficiently demoralising to stop me from trying again in the semester of Fall 2018.)

One of my autistic charms is that I tend to take people at their word. I also love structure, and am delighted to be given a set of rules to follow. The former has mostly made me an easy target for predators, while the latter made me an extremely easy mark for shame as a child. Fortunately, in addition to these qualities, I have a stubbornness and a knack for spotting when a system of rules is broken, and needs fixing.

By grace of those traits, I was able to extricate my queer feminist ass from specifically religious shame fairly easily. The rule system was clearly flawed. The guilt part was trickier. I remember confessing various and sundry sins to Father John (*yes, his real name – I am confident in your inability to track down a Catholic Father John in the same way that I am confident you’ll be looking for that needle in that haystack for awhile*) and thinking two things: 1) That these were not really sins, and 2): Oh fuck, I disappointed the priest.

The Church left me with a fairly impressive capacity to simultaneously have no faith at all and to feel constantly guilty. I gradually moved farther and farther away from any kind of formal spiritual practice, although I missed (and still miss) the ritual. What I couldn’t do, however, was get away from that need to be Good. And, without any particular text to follow, Goodness became more or less a crapshoot.

When I studied philosophy I combed through every new text hoping that this would be the one. This would be the class where I encountered a flawless system that made perfect sense and made everyone happy. I believed in God and then I didn’t and then I decided that it didn’t particularly matter. I tried to please everyone and invariably failed. I have been told more than once to stop carrying the world on my shoulders, but have never quite found the right place to set it down.

My upbringing, particularly under a narcissistic father, taught me to look everywhere outside myself for confirmation of my goodness. To authority figures, to men in particular. I have always been good at defending other people, but never myself. If someone disagreed with me, then it was proof of my Badness. Of my unworthiness.

I have been working lately to quietly but urgently extricate myself from the more damaging parts of my family. A little overdue, but critical nevertheless. And the farther I get from that toxic structure, the more I start to recognize the flaws in the framework. I know I said I’m good at working out the kinks in systems, and it’s true, but when one is with you from birth it’s a lot harder to notice it’s even there long enough to realize it’s broken.

I am a kind person, and I am trying to learn to include myself as a worthy target for that kindness. I don’t have much of a structure beyond that yet. I am not sure how much of one I need. I try to make people’s lives better by my presence. I try to be gentle with myself. I try to protect my loved ones. I try not to beat myself up for not being able to save the world, and to just focus on the part right in front of me.

I try to be Good.

I think that might be Good enough.

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