Why Do I Try?

Why do I try to be a good person, even if I frequently fail?

It's a question I frequently ask myself - but why should I be asking myself at all? Shouldn't I be secure in the knowledge that I am trying? Is my questioning a sign that I'm a bad person? I don't know - but what I do know is that I question myself to find reasons for things, to help me understand myself a bit better and to clear up the murky waters of my mind. And I suppose I'm questioning myself, too, to prove something to myself - to prove that my motives are pure. Maybe I will succeed in that, maybe I won't. I don't know; this is mainly a thought exercise.

I know what aren't my motives, though...

1. I don't try to be a good person because I get off on the warm, fuzzy feelings. Well, to be honest, I do get off on the warm, fuzzy feelings I get when helping someone else out - but that's not my motive to be a good person. It's a nice...a nice side-effect, if you will, but it's just something in addition to having done something halfway decent. Even without those fuzzy feelings I'd still hopefully be trying to do some good in the world. Even when I'm not getting warm, fuzzy feelings, even when I'm as upset and overwhelmed as hell I don't leave my friends, family and loved ones to suffer because that would be the wrong thing to do. It's a trivial example, yes, and I'd like to do more - but nonetheless it counts.

2. I don't try to be a good person because it's somehow fashionable. Yer wot?! I'm quite possibly the least fashionable person on the planet. Why would I be doing good to fit in or to keep up with the proverbial Joneses (who sound like twats anyway)? Anyway, from my experience the same people who think doing good is a trend are either grumpy and middle-aged with several axes to grind or the kind of people who think that wearing colourful wristbands and spouting inane, pseudo-inspirational bullshit at whatever poor passer-by comes along counts as activism.

3. I don't try to be a good person because there's something in it for me. Quite honestly, apart from my feminism, my secularism, my interest in support networks, suicide awareness and prevention and mental health, and my support of equal marriage, if I were only interested in what something would do to me personally I'd be lazing about doing nothing. Life's treated me far too well; I'm white, cis, abled and middle-class. Materially I lack for little, if anything. I'm not interested in myself; I'm interested in other people and I would gladly give up all my privilege if it meant others suffered less.

So why do I try to do good, despite my failures? Why do I try to do good if I don't mind not having warm, fuzzy feelings, if it's not fashionable, and if there's little advantage to me in doing so?

There is an idea going round that people only do things if it's of some benefit to them, so you have to reward people with things or pander to their worldviews if you ever want anything done. To a great extent it's true; it's why simply stating the facts doesn't really work on most people, for example. Yet assuming that selfishness is people's only driving motivation doesn't just make the world a poorer place - a lot of support for capitalism and the "free" market (even under unfettered mature capitalism you probably couldn't get one) is based on the notion that people are rational and selfishness can lead to a better life for everyone, and look where that got us - but it's also patently wrong. People will do things for complete strangers without any incentive. Now, people will also refuse to do things without some incentive - don't get me wrong. But at times we'll do things for no other reason than that it's the right thing to do, and that's what drives me and gives me hope.

I don't mind that doing right by others has no benefit to me, because it has benefit to them - and to me, that's what counts. I don't stand up for others because there's something in it for me but because it will make a difference to them and to us all. If living beings suffer, it is wrong of me to stand by and let them continue suffering - even if there is an advantage to me in doing so.

One last note: some people might ask me why I've included Jabbar Gibson, a man with an extensive criminal history, in the links. The reason for this is his rescuing around 70 Katrina victims. People can be altruistic at one time and assault others at another. That's not a good thing, but a bad action does not wipe out a good one and a good action does not wipe out a bad one.