My daughter wraps up the third grade this week and with it, what I hope is her incessant need to be “good” and “nice.” For many parents, a child intent on always being good and never hurting anyone’s feelings may be seen as a plus, an outward sign to the world that you are excelling at parenthood. Heaven knows that the Judgy McJudgerson’s of proper parenting are all around us, waiting to issue a disapproving eye and worse, words we didn’t ask for. If it’s real bad, our uncomfortable moments of parenting are captured by a fellow parent and shared across the land of social media where untold numbers weigh in and pat themselves on the back for being “good” parents.
Well, I don’t care about being that kind of “good” parent and I don’t want that kind of “good” child because our culture’s need to turn kids into good kids often strips them of their ability to be themselves and stand in their truth. I was a good kid, who grew up to become an anxious adult breathing into paper bags when the weight of good became too much. Good is a great way to lose your voice or worse yet, never find it.
A year end visit to my daughter’s classroom today revealed that her experience this school year was heavy on learning manners; manners that include not ever saying anything negative because you might hurt someone’s feelings. Admittedly I am blowing off some steam here but my annoyance is far greater than just my daughter’s classroom experience.
Good is often the prison that keeps people locked in a cell where change is hard to come by because to step outside the line of what is deemed acceptable is seen as bad or at the very least problematic. Living in New England for the past dozen years, I have struggled to understand the people and the culture, many times feeling like a visitor from the planet troublemaker.
A few days ago the thought popped into my mind that if Lake Wobegon met up and had an affair with Pleasantville, the offspring would be Maine. A place so pleasant, so nice with many good people yet so filled with expectations that rarely allows for deeper truths and exploration. A place where good is put on the pedestal and harsh words or unpleasant truths are rarely openly discussed. Yet my reality of Maine is not limited to Maine, it exists all over and is an interesting byproduct of white American values. Where according to my friend and author Debby Irving “A “good” attitude was highly valued and rewarded.”
In my years of writing about my journey as a Black woman in Maine, people often are surprised at the depth of my honesty and at times it is problematic for me. I was raised to be nice and good but as woman of color, I learned long ago that the privileges of niceness and goodness are not automatically awarded to people like me. Instead it was only when I found my voice and decided that “good” was detrimental to me personally that my life unfolded in ways that I valued.
How many people have lost their lives at the hands of goodness? Many of the very people we now revere were not initially seen as good, last I checked many of those involved in the civil rights movement were initially seen as rabble rousers and troublemakers. Imagine if they had not stopped outside their socially prescribed box of goodness? Good is not always bad but a culture that starts our young focused on being good is a culture that often is not willing to rip the bandaid of injustice and intolerance off, instead using good as a convenient cover. Teachers and parents plant seeds that often grow deep within our youth and the seed of good while worthy is never enough if we are not planting truth, honest and justice as well.
Good is not inherently bad but good should never be the end goal.