What makes a good person good? Is it how they treat their family? Is it how they treat people working in the service industry? Is it their care for animals? Children?
Yes. To all of these sentiments, any of these could be factors in making you a good person. Good people treat their loved ones well. They’re kind to strangers. They may have a smile for everyone. They’re the kind of people who see someone drop a $20 bill and, even though they are broke, they run up to return it. It’s the people who go out of their way to be kind.
I know so many good people. People I have known for years and years, who I love dearly. I am surrounded by good people in my life, who have been there for me through thick and thin. They have stood by me during the trials and tribulations in my life, but they have also celebrated with me during my personal victories. We have sat together and shared stories about our lives and genuinely enjoyed each other’s company. They are good people.
However, some of these people lack one very important quality: they are incapable of listening to subjects they find uncomfortable. They are ruled by the concept that we don’t talk about race or politics or religion in polite company (don’t even get me started on what “polite company” means). Then there are those that are even more worrisome: those who will listen for a minuscule amount of time and then talk over you to get their very right point across.
They will sit there and dismiss you. They will roll their eyes. They will speak loudly and clearly while you try to have a normal conversation. They will get exasperated. Then they will try to find anything they can to discredit you, right there to your face. They may call you hysterical (specifically if you’re a woman). They may insult your skin color (whatever it may be, I myself was called racist against white people during a conversation. News flash: I’m white). They may just call you some insulting word attached to the word liberal or vice versa (“liberal snowflake”, for example, and I once heard “namby pamby liberal” come back into the vernacular).
These people are not necessarily bad people. They are not to be immediately dismissed as bigots. They are in need of one thing: education. They may have grown up in a sheltered community where racism was not as visible as in other areas. They may have grown up surrounded by people who supported a viewpoint that targeted another race, religion or sex. I believe that a lot of these issues come from the way someone was raised. They were either raised to support these toxic viewpoints and have never been educated to the wiser or they were brought up with non-toxic viewpoints and something in their life led them to rebel against it.
I can hear both sides rolling their eyes at me now. The word “naive” comes to mind. However, let me explain one final thing. Anyone who thinks I am saying to go out and start a conversation with some random person and try to educate them must think I’m absolutely insane. I taught for 6 years, and while it didn’t happen often, sometimes people (even young people) just don’t want to listen. There is no changing their mind. Also, there is just too much violence in the world right now to speak with complete strangers about these difficult and complicated topics. Please do not consider this post as a request to have conversations like this with someone you do not know (in these trying times, I think we can all live by the “stranger danger” rule to some extent).
What I am talking about is the people who surround you. When the guy you’ve been friends with for years makes an offhand comment about a girl’s skirt length being too short and she should be more mindful of her choices, choose to explain to him that women are not just sexual objects. When a loved one is sitting down explaining how they believe that All Lives Matter movement is okay, explain to them why saying All Lives Matter in response to Black Lives Matter is like asking someone to pray for Houston during the floods and responding that all cities matter and we should pray for them all. When someone is telling you a story about some guy in a locker room commenting on what he would do to a personal trainer, explain to them why that’s beyond not okay and propagating rape culture. When your grandparents start talking about the good old days when women belonged at home and men were the breadwinners, let them have it. They’re you’re grandparents.
The point is, we don’t want to be a society of good people. Our president used a phrase that I would like to use now, but fix it a little. Let’s stop screaming “Make America Great Again”. Let’s Make American People Great. Let’s show people how to be compassionate and empathetic towards others and their viewpoints. Let’s teach people that conversations are great, even if you don’t agree in the end. Let’s remind people that in many cases there are a lot of grey areas, and listen to people’s points with respect. Let’s stop focusing on the “good old days” that honestly weren’t so good. Let’s stop fighting between our generations about who has had it harder. Let’s stop arguing that we are the one on the side of righteousness and everyone else is here to ruin all of us. If the person who is speaking is saying something that they wouldn’t say in the presence of other company, they know it’s wrong.
So have a conversation, even if it’s hard. Even if it makes you uncomfortable to have it. In this country we have the privilege to speak out for what we believe in, when in some places that is not the case. So try to talk about why it may not be okay. They may listen halfheartedly, but it may stay with them for some time and get them thinking. If they choose to dismiss you and then that’s on them. At least you were trying to make them great.