Growing up I went through several things that gave me an incredibly skewed sense of who I was as a person.
Much of my teenage and early adulthood was spent trying to figure out how to be a good person, or at least appear to be in the eyes of others, to ease to ever nagging voices in my head that told me I was otherwise.
Even today I occasionally find myself ruminating on others perceptions of the man I am and if that man is inherently good or bad in their eyes. However these instances are fewer and further between and generally, through mindfulness practices, I can regain control of my wayward thoughts and centre myself with content.
One of the most profound shifts in my thinking occurred when I realised we truly live in a world of grey and as such, being universally “good” would never be attainable. No two human beings will ever completely agree on what constitutes “good” or “bad”, meaning there is no universal standards by which we can hold ourselves to.
That’s not to say that there are no such thing as good or bad actions or behaviours. There are plenty of universally accepted examples of these and in fact I believe that any action that causes undue harm to another human being can almost always be categorised as “bad” (although even this has grey areas too, self defence, to prevent further harm, etc.) and I also believe kindness, acceptance and love should be universally practiced for the greater good of the world. However that greater good is relative to my concept of goodness and I’m not so naive as to think it’s shared by everyone. If I truly value acceptance and it makes me feel “good” I must seek to understand and accept those who do not wish to behave with kindness and let them live their lives as happily and peacefully as they can.
However, these are actions and their goodness or badness are not enough to categories something as complex as a human being into good or bad and as the nature of the goodness or badness of an action is still subjective (for example kindness being something good to me, but it may be an irritation to someone else) it’s safe to say we’ve all done something “bad” at least by someone’s standards.
Now some of us may sit and say, “we’ll hang on, what about Hitler, or Saddam Hussein? Can’t we agree that overall they’re ‘bad’?” However there would be people out there, some of which by our standards may be “good” people, that would disagree and therefore we can’t claim that universal definition of goodness or badness.
Unlike science which can test for right and wrong, our opinions will only ever be as real as we (ourselves, not the world) believe them to be.
We are our own unique and wonderful human beings. Our lives shape our thoughts and our worlds around us. If we let the worlds others have shaped for themselves dictate the standards of behaviour we hold ourselves to, we will forever be falling short and end up beating ourselves up any time we feel we have let someone down. Our own worlds change, as too do the worlds of those around us. This means good and bad are as dynamic as our general moods can be. At the end of the day no one will see you or your world the way you do, so the only way to ever find content in your own character, is to set your own moral compass and follow it and no one else’s. If you value your relationship with others it will undoubtably steer you towards things such kindness, altruism, empathy etc. If you don’t, then no doubt you won’t care if others find you unkind and as such live with content being aloof or dismissive. (Without causing harm)