There are two sides to every coin, if we don’t count the edge that encircles it. For every commendation (praise) I receive, around the next corner I fend off condemnation (fuck you very much, Tanya). I am either one of the best presenters a person has heard, or I am preposterous, idiotic, or unqualified.
Consequently, I’ve made a practice of deflecting praise. If you’ve known me for any length of time, you’ve heard my standard responses, serving it right back to the collective–we are all exhibiting our own magnificence, any time we are able to.
It’s not because I’m a martyr or striving to live with humility. That last part is true, but that is not the impetus for my systematic deflection of praise. I do it because there is a system at play that I opted out of long ago and that I want no part of.
When I allow commendation to land on me sweetly and puff up my heart, it opens up my most tender hope: that I am good. And then I remember I’m a single data point in a system that verifies systematically how I am not good.
When I say System, I am referring to my own internal clockwork and all of its darkish quirks. I also mean the lessons that rain onto my exterior and seep into my bones, in a society that gravity feeds me into specific, prescribed roles, settings, and expectations.
There are occasional brave places and people who invite safety and wholeness. Even in those, my goodness may expire any time I open my mouth, it resets at midnight, and I am never able to rest. These moments and glimpses are almost so painful to step out of, that I question the purpose of trying them on at all.
All of that to say, the entire idea of “goodness” is an illusion. There is no such thing as good. It’s something one or some of us (humans) made up long ago, and maybe we can stop now; the comparing and contrasting, measuring one another’s actions with arbitrary teaspoons.
We must all untie from the idea that we are only worth the blood we circulate if we are “good.” Good by whose standards–today, this hour, this minute? It changes. On the corner of 7th and Right Now, you are good. Walk across town and you’re not good any more.
I was a good mom this morning, and by two I was no longer. We hear the preschooler swear and a few nearby adults exchange knowing glances and mutter, “I wonder where she learned those words,” and I literally want to scream, “Come on Little Buddy, it’s time to get in the fucking car!”
I want to say, “I heard you say Shit four times yesterday, Sarah.”
But I do not. I just walk away. I watch my kids play and I look at the sky and I lay on the grass and I think about how awkward humans are. I think about how the person who grasps onto goodness, clutching it just out of our reach, will likely forget to water it, too. Everyone fucks up sometimes, and nobody holds the patent on idiocy.
If we are good today and bad tomorrow and anyone at any moment can commend or condemn, then really none of it matters. Not one single bit. If the compliments can roll off like a bead of water down a duck’s back, then so can the condemnation. With practice, we can let go of all that distraction, pandering, and faker-pants behavior at the playground. It’s quite liberating.
What are we if we’re not good? We are honest or dishonest. We care or we are careless. We are responsive or we are complacent. We are gentle or we are aggressive. We swear or we do not. We are complicit or we are agitators. We are patient or impatient. We are inconsistent, and some of us try much, much harder to show that we are not.
We are a collection of actions and reactions; a bundle of thoughts, feelings and yearning. We are human mammals wearing a complicated neurobiology that we can’t always drive, or even understand. Single data points, like single stars, all together illuminating something vast and chaotic.