Ever feel like you keep pushing yourself to be good and do good, but no matter what, things just keep turning out bad? Have you considered that maybe the stubborn resolve to “do good” — no matter what — is the problem? Sometimes, trying to be good is a dead end, because what you really need to do is change the direction of your goal from being “good” to being “effective.”
There are 2 ways being good can be bad. The first is when being good ultimately harms you. As the Bible says, “Cast not ye pearls before swine, lest they turn and rend you.” Good people who do good things are well-regarded for their strength, sacrifice, patience and courage–all character traits to be proud of. Yet, a helping hand, a generous heart, or a supportive shoulder are gifts to be given with discretion. If you always give in to the selfish co-worker who dumps their work on your desk looking for favors that you always grant, telling yourself you are being a good person by helping out, when, in fact, you are being used as your own workload suffers and you get stuck working late, you are actually feeding a bad situation.
The other way that being good can be bad is when you pat yourself on the back for the “help” you’re giving as you blindly ignore how you are ultimately harming the people or things you are trying to serve. Take the parent who is forever picking up their toddler to keep them from getting hurt. You think you are doing good by protecting them from pain and skinned knees, but then your child never learns how to walk or run, how to fall and get back up. The principle is the same in any situation where to truly help someone, you don’t do for them, but help them to learn to do for themselves.
Where being good goes bad is when the genuine motivation behind the good act is not in line with what you tell yourself it is. Aristotle had it right when he said there is no such thing as a selfless act. Outwardly, it may look like you’re helping another, but inside are you really just indulging a need of your own? Are you helping that pushy co-worker as an act of kindness, or are you merely giving in to avoid confrontation? Are you picking your child up to prevent harm or is it more about giving in to your own unreasonable fears or compulsion to keep your child dependent so you can feel needed?
If telling yourself you’re being “good” is the cover story you use to conceal a secret underlying benefit, it’s time for a course correction that puts you on the path to being more genuine with yourself. Hiding from this subterranean truth may be a big part of what is creating and sustaining the bad things that are making you unhappy.
If you want to work towards making a chronically bad situation get better, don’t use “goodness” as an excuse to hide from facing the truth about yourself and what you are trying to gain or avoid. First, take emotion out of the equation as you isolate what, exactly, is the act that you are doing. Are you allowing your abusive husband to move back in–again? Paying for your teen’s car even though she’s using it to visit friends and not to get a job like she promised? Working overtime and taking on responsibilities beyond your position and pay even though you got passed over for promotion–twice?
After isolating the “good” act, next target what is the true secret benefit to you, not the one you tell yourself and the world. Are you taking the bum back because you’re afraid no other man will ever want you? Are you giving in on the car because you want your kid to like you, or you refuse to admit you raised a lazy manipulator? Are you playing the stooge at work, because you’re painfully shy and quietly hope you’ll someday be rewarded without actually having to get up the nerve and ask for it?
If your bad situation is not getting better no matter how good you’re being, ask yourself what would happen if you stopped being “good” and actually did what the circumstances require to effect real change for the better. Be honest with yourself. Are you actually feeding the bad things by being “good?”