“If them men wanted a decent burial, they should have gotten themselves kilt in summer.” Rooster Cogburn, True Grit.
Someone once asked me that question – Am I a terrible person?
What kind of a question is that, and what answer does the person who asked it want?
A while ago I would have rushed in with an answer, one designed to reassure the person that they were not terrible at all. How could they think such a thing! I would have spent a lot of effort and time trying to convince them that they were the opposite, because they would have probably argued with my answer or asked me for more of an answer than the one I gave, whether I knew them or not.
There are certain questions which hit us personally even when we don’t take them personally.
Most of us want to be good. Or at least be seen as good by others even if we don’t always see ourselves like that. If others think we are good, then we can strive to live up to that. It gives us incentive to be better rather than worse.
Sometimes that incentive comes from proving to those who think we are bad that we are not bad, but eventually that exhausts us because we realise that they are never going to give us any credit. They’ve made their decision and have no intention of changing it, and they may actually be manipulating us with their opinion of us – They get more from us if they give us nothing.
Also we may need to be bad for them to be good. Their identity relies on ours.
Sometimes we become bad to prove them right.
Sometimes we become good to prove them wrong.
Unless we’re bad and we want to be bad and be seen as good so that we can take advantage of the kindness of others. But that’s another matter.
So when someone wonders if they are perceived as being less than good it touches our own fears that others might see us as bad in some way even when we are doing our utmost to be a good person.
Convincing them that they are good, convinces us that we are good too. By telling them that they are good, we are being good. And what we say to them, we are also saying to ourselves. Affirmations exist is many forms not just the obvious ones.
However when this question was asked of me, I was no longer in that frame of mind and being. I had reached that point where my identity no longer relied on the opinion of others.
As useful as it is to know what others think of us, as often as it can be a boost, it can be the exact opposite too, a useless weight which eventually becomes a hindrance to being ourselves, dragging us down into that place where we begin to disintegrate and lose ourselves.
If getting you to think well of me, to like me, requires that I become less myself and more like you – because we tend to like those who are like us more than we like those who are not like us – and as much as you may be a great person as yourself, being yourself, I am not like you, even though I may like you.
Confused? Being… is confusing, especially when others weigh in on our beingness, because their beingness mixes with ours. Who they are, how they see themselves, relies on us… being and not being ourselves.
My reply to the question was to redirect it – Do you see yourself as a terrible person? Do you want to be a terrible person or a not terrible person? The answer depends on the result you want.
Needless to say they suddenly decided that I was not the person to ask this question to… which was a relief.
I have spent far too much of my mortal life time on others. Tick tock. Causing my fingers to bleed as I hacked away at frozen ground to give them a decent burial even though they were the ones to get kilt in Winter. Perhaps they did that deliberately to test others, to see how much we care, because if we care enough to bleed for them, to work our fingers to the bone, and maybe even kill ourselves in the process, for them, then they must be worth something.
Really!?! Is there not an easier way to do this!?! Would they do that for us… I wonder.
That person who asked me that question… what would they have done if I had asked it of them? That is not part of the game of asking those sort of questions though is it? And why did they think I would know the answer? They didn’t, now did they.
Proving to someone that they are not who they think they may be, trying to convince them that they are good when they suspect that they may be bad… well, it’s going against their will and no matter what you do or say they will be of the same opinion still. If they are asking you a question such as – Am I a terrible person? – they have an opinion about themselves and about you… and you’re not the only one of whom they are asking such questions.
And that applies to people who ask you if you think they’re a good person too.
They are fishing for something you can’t give them, the sort of approval that can only come from within themselves. But they quite like the time and attention you give them when you try to answer such a question. The focus is on them. They never settle for a simple yes or no. You have to explain, expand and elaborate, and keep going until they get bored of you and move on to someone else. They’re looking for themselves in all the wrong places.
Ultimately it is their responsibility to decide… chances are they have already decided and are wasting your time (or sucking your life out of you to feed themselves). Your mortal life spent on them is a gain for them, but what is it for you?
I would never ask someone this question. Why would ? Why would anyone? That’s an awful responsibility to place on another’s shoulders. If the reply does not please, does not assuage the inner emptiness, identity crisis and existential angst, then what? Is the person being asked now also responsible for your life and what you do with it if you get the wrong answer?
Why would you expect someone to know something about you which you would not know about them?
Sure, I can pretend to be judge and jury… but, come on… I’m still trying to figure out this being human thing too, what do I know!