As a social media post, it was nothing unusual. A thank-you for a gift and a message that praised: “You’ve shown me there are still good people in this world.”
“Ahhh, that’s nice,” you might think. “Join the hundreds of others giving it a like and move on.”
But the phrase bugged me all day and I couldn’t figure out why. It finally hit me, the way epiphanies do, at 3am the next day.
The world is full of good people. We’re just blind at times.
Let me explain what I mean. When I was 18, I was good friends with a girl I’ll call Sally. She was great: funny, intelligent, empathetic, kind – all you could want in a person.
Her friends, however, were pains in the arses. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get on with them and vice versa. It really was a case of hackles rising on both sides the moment we saw each other.
I could never understand why this great person I got on so well with was friends with people who were horrible. How could she not see what I could see? It was so obvious these other girls were bad people.
When good people go bad
It was many years later when I discovered the answer, when my best friend casually said: “Oh, that was when you’d really pissed me off and you were getting on my nerves.” My face must have fallen, because she followed it up straightaway with: “What? Like I’ve never pissed you off? Everyone pisses people off at times, but you’re still my best friend and I love you.”
Twenty years later – and several hundreds of miles between us – she’s still my best friend and I love her to death, even when she pisses me off.
Because she was right: nobody is 100 per cent perfect, even me (I know!), and we all do things that annoy and bug others. It is how much you value the good parts of the person that determine whether or not you want them in your lives.
Which is why Sally could never see what I could see – because she wasn’t me. She saw qualities in her friends that I couldn’t and qualities in me that they couldn’t.
Of course they weren’t two-dimensional horrible people, the way me at 18 viewed them. They were just people: both good and bad.
Let she who is without sin…
Ultimately, good and bad come down to us. When we say: “They’re a good person,” what we mean is: “They have passed my own personal test and values and as I am a good person, I can judge them.”
In truth, it is more about our own egos and how we want to be perceived than the other person.
We see it all the time on social media. People being told they’re on the wrong side of history or are a bigot, evil, nasty… Someone I follow posted a video of a man losing his temper and using a racial slur. Within five posts, her followers had surmised that this man obviously beat his wife and was abusive to his work colleagues (who were no doubt “delighted” he’d been sacked).
What he said was appalling and horrendous in itself. It had no need of a pile-on. But once one had started, the next person felt the need to show they were just as “good” – if not better – than the previous poster. So by the end of it, this man, who none of them knew, was on a par with Genghis Khan.
Which actually meant his original, awful offence got overlooked. Not only that, but so did any chance of his redemption.
Can people change?
Some of the men featured have done terrible crimes, including murder. But the majority truly regret what they’ve done and are very different men to the ones who committed the crime. Despite this, they will forever be seen as “bad”, even though 99% of their families would probably say they’re good people who made a mistake.
Which is why I raise eyebrows about praising someone for “showing me there are good people in this world”. Most people want to do what they think is good. Nobody wakes up thinking: “How can I hurt someone today.” Even politicians. Yes, honestly. But people, as a wise friend once said, are unsatisfactory and make mistakes. How we let this affect our view of the world is up to us.
Am I good? The choice is yours
I wish this meant I never passed judgement myself. I do. I’m fallible, like all of us. Hormonal rages have certainly had me blasting people for the slightest of reasons. If they made a film of it, Michael Douglas would be the lead.
In addition, I can at times be too easily swayed by the opinions of others. It’s the lifelong habit of being a people-pleaser, something age and experience has shown me invariably fails. You can’t please everyone. And this means that to some, I’m further proof of there being bad people in this world.
It would be so easy to write off anyone who has upset me as “bad”, or to say that anyone who says something negative about me is wrong. To look around and dismiss the world because it doesn’t match up to my expectations.
But I am far, far from perfect. And so, most of the time, I remember the examples of Sally and my BFF – to the extent that a friend’s husband says I would try to see a good side to the most heinous of killers.
While that’s a long way from being true, unlike the 18-year-old 50Sense, I have enough experience in me now to know that at times, it’s me who is wrong and to give others the benefit of the doubt. It means I get hurt occasionally, but that’s a small price to pay to believe in the goodness of people.
Because the world is full of them.
What do you think? Are there still good people in the world? I’d love to know your opinion. Leave me your thoughts in the comments below.
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