I am a fifty-two-year-old woman who has spent most of her life being what the majority of people would consider to be a ‘good’ person. I have spent thirty years working with people with severe intellectual disabilities, a job that without fail draws gasps of admiration and praise from anyone that discovers what I do for a living.
My second job for the last twenty years has been as a yoga teacher and I know that when people hear about my second job they tend to naturally believe that I am helping others to be fit and well, whilst also supporting them to consider the deeper aspects of life. We all assume certain things about others based on our beliefs about what’s good and what’s bad, but what if good and bad don’t really exist? What if good and bad are figments of our imagination, conjured up out of our own connotations about what each word means?
As well as doing both my jobs I have always tried to help others out as best as I could. I have always strived to be a ‘good person’: this started from a really young age with me trying hard both at school and at home to be a ‘good’ girl. I knew who the ‘naughty’ kids were and I definitely didn’t want to be one of them. At home I would help Mum by doing things around the house; I really wanted my Mum and Dad to see me as being a ‘good girl’. Being good became part of my identity and I never for one moment considered that there could possibly be any harm in being good.
As an adult, I would offer to babysit for my friend’s kids without them asking and I always tried to be as helpful as possible to everyone. Once a week I would race to a local hospice, having just finished a night shift and help out for a couple of hours before racing back across town to teach a yoga class, fervently believing that I was doing nothing but good.
My partner and I have sponsored a child abroad for the last thirty years and I have given both my money and my time to animal charities, staunchly believing that if only more people gave money to charity then we would eventually be able to address all of the imbalances and injustices in the world.
I can remember being fairly young when I rather anxiously asked my Dad if there were more ‘good’ people in the world than ‘bad’ and feeling a wave of relief when he said that there were. I bought into the belief that ‘if only there were more good people in the world then the world would be a better place’. But what I have come to realise is, as with all beliefs, this belief is not true and the reason for that is that ‘being good’ is not a true way of being.
I put an enormous amount of effort into being good, as opposed to simply just being me and this I did because like most kids, I was acknowledged more for what I did than for who I was. I was seen for being sporty, trying hard and being popular with the boys but equally, there were those who were seen for not being good at sport, dropping out in class and being ‘users’ when it came to relationships. We all had our identities but none of them had anything to do with the truth of who any of us were and everything to do with the external mechanics of how we looked and what we did.
Looking back I can see that even though I was heavily invested in being seen as being good – that what actually mattered was being seen as being something and in fact, pretty much anything would have done. This I know because over the many subsequent years the characteristics that I have been known for have changed many, many times. The array of identities that I have had has included being a very hard and aggressive person, a rather wild risk-taker, an overtly ‘nice’ person, a deeply ‘spiritual’ person, a vegetarian animal rights kind of a person, a dance party chick plus a multitude of other interchangeable personalities. Looking back I feel like one of those cut-out paper dolls that came with a whole wardrobe of different cut out paper outfits and throughout my life, I simply kept switching the different looks.
What I have come to feel in recent years is that there are many, many things in life that are not as they seem. In fact, they are in many ways the direct opposite of what they purport to be. I can categorically say that there was not an ounce of any true good in any of the ‘good’ things that I did, and not only that, my so-called ‘good deeds’ actually added to the very things that I was trying to eradicate because how I was being was not true – for all intents and purposes – it was an act even though I would have sworn blind that it was me.
The most significant contribution that I could have made to any of the causes, people and events that I gave my time to was Me, the real undoctored Me – but I didn’t, I took the tampered with version of Mini-Me wherever I went, the ‘Trying To Be Good Me’, the ‘Trying To ‘Be Calm Me’, the ‘Trying To Be Selfless Me’, the ‘Trying To Do The Right Thing Me’. I, therefore, walked dishonesty into every situation that I was involved in because I didn’t have to try to be me, in fact trying to be anything other than me will always take me away from simply just being me. And to add that I now know that by simply just being me, I silently encourage others to also just be themselves, which in many ways is the most valuable thing that I can ever do for anyone.
In recent years my beliefs around the concepts of ‘being good, being benevolent and being kind’ have crumbled away as violently as an unstable rockface and I have been left standing and looking around me, questioning all beliefs for their validity in truth. As I stand in the rubble of the rockface, what has been revealed to me is a woman who is deeply embedded in the beauty of life, a woman who understands that true caring comes through us and not from us, and a woman who can see and appreciate the innate beauty in us all.
So I have dropped the act of being good, I have let go of any intention of being kind and I certainly don’t believe that if only there were more good people in the world then the world would be a better place.
What I now know to be true is that all that’s needed is for me to be myself, the real and true me that I was born as – free of pictures, free of any ideals and free of any notion about who I should be or who I would like to be. The absolute simplicity of who I innately am is more than enough, in fact, it gets grander and grander by the day.
By Alexis Stewart, team leader of an amazing team, mother of a beautiful boy, partner to a man who keeps revealing more and more of his incredibly delicate nature, an absolute lover of people and of Life, Sydney, Australia