We like to divide people up into two categories: good and bad. There are those who put in effort to help others and make the world a better place, and then those who are all for themselves and want to tear things down. Even though we can typically sense that’s an overgeneralization, we still live with those categories in our mind. The jerk who just cut you off in traffic? Bad person. The person that let you go ahead of you in line? Good person. Life is ambiguous, and we all know that there are different parts to every person, but we still want to believe that all of these things have points and overall, you’re more good than bad.
We have a positivity bias in this, that we all think we’re just a little better than average than everyone else around us. However, since everyone has this, statistically, that means you’re probably not. We want to believe in our goodness, but far more often, we ignore the bad parts of ourselves because we don’t want to deal with it. That, or we focus so much so on the bad that it paralyzes our ability to do anything.
No one is fully good, nor is anyone fully bad. We do both noble, selfless things, and cruel, selfish things. We have those categories of good and bad because it helps motivate us. No one truly wants to be bad, everyone is just searching for purpose and happiness and go about it in different ways. Some are more effective than others. Even if we want to be selfless, it’s hard to will yourself into having better motivations. We’re used to be selfish because we want to survive. We want the good things in life, and we also would greatly prefer to not have to work and wait for them. The labels of Good and Bad are dangerous because calling ourselves Good can make us think we don’t have to try anymore, and calling ourselves Bad can make us think there’s no hope. But there’s also a similar danger to labeling ourselves as Gray, because if everyone is a mix, you can justify doing something immoral by saying you’ll do better things later, or that you’re not so easily pegged down.
We have a deep understanding that it is good, it is better, to put others first. To think before we speak. To be kind, but firm when needed. To have self control. To have compassion and help those who are in need. Things are wonderful things to aspire to, and we should aspire to them because not only does it help others, but also it inadvertently givers the doer purpose as well. But being Good like this doesn’t mean that we don’t take care of ourselves, or that we rip ourselves down. Instead, it means we are comfortable enough with ourselves to focus on someone else. However, the process of helping others in itself helps make us more comfortable with ourselves. It’s hard work. We get distracted easily. We constantly face conflicts between our ambitions and helping others, but aiming for the Good, avoiding the Bad, and keeping in mind our Gray can help motivate us to be better people. We don’t have all the information on everyone else, so we have no place to judge them, but if we want to place things into categories so much, we should focus on how we can strive to be better ourselves.