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There is really only one question you ever need to direct at someone to work out whether
or not they are a good person - and that is, with deliberate simplicity: Do you think you
are a good person? And to this there is only one acceptable answer. People who are genuinely
good, people who know about kindness, patience, forgiveness, compromise, apology and gentleness
always, always answer no.
One cannot both be a good person and at the same time feel either blameless or pure inside.
Goodness is, one might say, the unique consequence of a keen and ongoing awareness of one's
capacity to be bad, that is, to be thoughtless, cruel, self-righteous and deaf to the legitimate
needs of others. Only on the basis of a perpetual vigilant impression that one hasn't got
the right to judge oneself above suspicion, does one come anywhere near the ethical high
standard that merits the title of 'good' (a word one can still never use of oneself).
The price of being genuinely good has to be a constant suspicion that one might be a monster
- combined with a fundamental hesitation about labelling anyone else monstrous. A guilty
conscience is the bedrock of virtue.
Correspondingly, only properly bad people don't lie awake at night worrying about
their characters. It has generally never occurred to the most difficult or dangerous people
on the planet that they might be lacking. Their sickness is to locate evil always firmly
outside of themselves: it's by definition invariably the others who are to blame, the
others who are cruel, sinful, lacking in judgement and mistaken. And their job is to take these
impure people down and correct their evils in the fire of their own righteousness.
It is a grim paradox that the worst deeds that humans have ever been guilty of have
been carried out by people with an easy conscience, people who felt they were definitely on the
side of angels, people who were entirely sure that they had justice in hand. What unites
the people who report their neighbours to the secret police, the crowds who burn their
victims at stakes while dancing around their agonised bodies, the government officials
who set up purification camps and the nations that wipe out their enemies with special barbarism
is their consistent and overwhelming sense that they are doing the right thing - in the
eyes of god, history or Truth. When trying to understand why people do evil things, never
start from the position of imagining that they understood them as evil; remember that
they would have carried out their nastiness cocksure that they were paragons. An impassioned
feeling of being the instrument of justice has been at the heart of humanity's most
appallingly unkind moments.
It is a hallmark of all the cruellest ages of history that certain groups decide that
they have landed on a cause that gives them a monopoly on justice: that a particular god
has given them a special mission to eradicate sin or when their study of economics or biology
have shown them one true path to an upright future - at which point there is no limit
to the number of eggs that can be broken to concoct the righteous omelette. And by implication,
the kindest stretches of history are those when a majority daily awake wondering how
they might go easy on others because they are so flawed themselves, when a sense of
scepticism and apology dominates every social exchange, when one is constantly charitable
in word and deed from a sense of impeachability - and when people can always readily forgive
because they know how much in them needs to be forgiven.
"Who am I?" is a book designed to help us create a psychological portrait of who we are; with the use of some unusual, oblique, entertaining and playful prompts.


A Test to Work Out if You're a Good Person

35 タグ追加 保存
Summer 2020 年 9 月 10 日 に公開
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