The Good-Person Trend?
Am I a good person? That question made the rounds this week with this NYTimes piece by a Dartmouth admission’s officer, who herself had been rejected from the school when she applied.
The article focused on an otherwise-averagely-strong student who was accepted to Dartmouth largely on the strength of his recommendation letter.
What set this letter apart, and got his unanimous YES vote by the admissions committee?
It was written by the school custodian, praising the student’s level of basic respect, friendliness, and awareness for all people–ALL People– at the school, the custodian included.
Wait, but– Am I a good person?
Well, if you have to ask…
You could go all politician-semantics and say, “Depends on how you define good.” But you could also just look at yourself and what you do, take some notes, and evaluate.
The writer warned that she expected a rash of applicants to follow the publication of the article with letters of support from their local garbage man, their school security guard, and so on. She was fine with that, if that trend tipped the balance of behavior and values in favor of students generally being truly good.
But the thing is, a truly good person is not good BECAUSE OF WHAT IT GETS YOU.
A truly good person is just good JUST BECAUSE.
A Good person is good material
I’m lucky– my husband is this type of person. The other day, I was having a moan-y morning, feeling inadequate (hey, it happens sometimes), when he stopped me in my yowling tracks.
You are good and loving, he said. What more do you want?
Oh, gosh– too bad I already applied to (and long finished) college! This would have been GREAT MATERIAL!
No, you see, I am only kidding. Not everything can be used.
Because I doubt this featured student was thinking, “I know: I’ll clean up classrooms for four years, greet the custodians in the hall every time…so I can look good on my college application!”
Good people do stuff when no one is looking.
I know, it’s hard to wrap your mind around.
But, wait– am I a good person?
How do I know if I’m a good person?
First– Who’s the judge of that? Not you.
Second– Who’s the beneficiary of that? Well (kind of) not you.
Third, actually Read the article if you haven’t already. Decide for yourself what the criteria should be, especially when we are surrounded by so much
outright crappy downright immoral not good behavior, and it seems to get people pretty far in life (you can even behave so badly and awfully you get elected President!).
What weighs more in your eyes– accomplishment and elite accolades? Or the simple fact that you made someone else’s life better so long as it was in your power?
You may not have to pick.
Instead, you can open a notebook and start writing:
Am I a good person?
Write freely with sincere inquiry to figure out for yourself what that even means– I sure don’t always know.
Who’s Looking? Help Along the Way to Being Good
For some unabashed, perhaps slightly age-inappropriate (but isn’t the best stuff?) humor, check out “Trying To Be Good.” Artist Emeila Symington Fedy pushes the questions in our faces.
And then you could always do the experienced meditator’s thing: toss out the old stories about yourself– the Big and Little Ones– and start fresh.
By the way, this (PassEaster) week, certain faith traditions hold that Jesus went up, up, and away. Apparently, he valued being good over being comfortable. If living like that is your thing, tell us about it. We want to know how you’re good or struggle to be so. But no matter what you say, the truth is going to be in how you behave.
And that’s what’s up to other people to notice– not you, got it?– and they will.
That’s the impression you leave when all impressive things you fought so hard to add to your list are pushed to the side.
Those things matter too, but maybe in the end not as much as the door your held open for someone whose hands were full.
Or, you know, that time you bought someone a tea just because.
An anecdote on being a good person (or two):
I was teaching 7th graders in the late afternoon while struggling with a throat infection. My voice would go MIA mid-sentence, and my throat throb like the Golden Apple sprayed in pesticides.
Two 7th grader boys asked with special emphasis and suspicious unison to go to the bathroom. One had mop blond hair and twinkly eyes that almost always got him out of trouble as soon as he got in it, the other was my Philosopher King, his nappy hair buzzed close to his head and his mind almost always gnawing something eccentrically intellectual and off-topic. I never let students go to the bathroom in pairs, but my defenses were down.
When they returned, maybe 10 minutes too-long later, they had a styrofoam cup of tea in their hands. They’d watched me make it strong over the many months; and now they had gone to the teachers’ lounge and prepared something. They proudly held out a styrofoam cup of black-as-black-orange-can-be tea; Lipton labels, red and yellow tacky like McD’s brand, flopped over the side.
OK, I hated black tea, but the point was my students had watched my habits closely and made a gesture that took effort, forethought, and risked 1st degree burns. Their grubby hands were ministering. I sipped their grating tea for the rest of the period, teaching in ineffective croaks, and they did not wipe the smiles off their faces until the bell rang.
Want to share?
What did you learn, writing on this tender subject? Want a pair of good eyes to review it, and help you figure out this burning question?
We also love talking to our students about what it means to be authentically good. Maybe we can all do just a bit better. Maybe it won’t get us anywhere. But maybe, just maybe, it will.