Being the Good person

I am cycling on the road slightly downhill with the wind behind me, and someone is cycling out of the park on my left, into my path. Surely he will stay on the pavement? I look, worriedly, at the back of his head and hope he will look round. I cannot evade him because of the oncoming car. I can’t stop, so I scream; he looks round and brakes.

I pedal on, and from far behind me I hear his aggrieved exclamation: The fxxk! Scream like that? And now, I am so envious of him: that reflexive self-righteousness, he resents me and my wronging him. He is the good person here. Whereas I am analysing the situation and after much thought, have decided that my conduct passes muster, though I wonder if I should have reacted sooner.

There are advantages to the worried assessment- “Am I good enough? Did I wrong him?” which seems a more feminine response. The cars I notice waiting behind me for a safe, courteous time to overtake are driven by women, the cars which breenge past far too fast and close are driven by men. The advantage is that you probably won’t be in the wrong, and won’t have a collision. It means I need approval from others, though. There are advantages to the reflexive self-righteousness: you never need to think about second-guessing yourself, and nothing bad usually happens because other people manage to clear up your messes or take evasive action before you smash into them.

I used to see S every week or so, but have not for ages; but she has been to Woodbrooke and wanted to tell me about it. At one point I state something passionately, then half-apologise for it: “That was vehement,” I say, feeling her out. Oh, she says, that’s just the normal way of speaking, for her and her family. It is not for me. My passion is usually behind a diffident manner, which can be painful for me: I am restrained by my own fears. “Like an elephant with a-” I am miming a shackle round my ankle, but do not need to, because she got the allusion immediately.

“We need to be with others to know ourselves, because we see ourselves reflected in them,” she says. Yes. Of course. I am learning, now, from my interactions. I judge myself. I always ask, “How am I wrong?” I know this from interaction, but I am a recluse because for so long I judged myself reflexively and unconsciously, so I was always wrong, all the time, and when I was hurt too much by interactions and could take it no longer I needed to hide away. Right now, I am having the interactions I can bear.

From facebook: To state that zazen has a definite and particular form, and to cling to that position leads to one kind of trouble, while stating that zazen has no particular form sends one off in another confused direction. There is no logical resolution to this problem. And it is this illogical paradox with which a true practitioner of Zen must ‘sit’ both literally and spiritually. Yes. I reacted to that: it is seeking safety in rules- like I do. I am more or less happy cycling because I think I know the rules of the road, and what I am entitled to- it’s a formalised interaction. If I said, “Non-theists are not Quakers” it is an attempt to find safety in rules. In this future situation, I will act in this way, and I will be right. S said, “That’s why Quakers talk all the time”- because human situations are so complex, so making rules is difficult. She said this not because she had seen that in facebook, but a propos of something else. Perhaps I am in a computer simulation, where the same lesson comes to me repeatedly, or perhaps I am just open to it now.

Also on facebook, someone wrote,  Anyone who was abused in their formative years is likely to feel they are ‘a lesser being’ than all others and may live in fear of rejection and abuse; so they will continually seek and need the approval of others. And on-going approval will also help dispel their fears of engendering further abuse. I felt myself completely worthless, so I do need approval: developing my own grudging acceptance, just-about approval for myself is difficult. Here is David Brooks on another aspect of needing the approval of others.

Being good

What would it mean to be good? I wrote “I lie to myself because I want to see myself as a good person” and it felt like a huge insight: everyone wants to be able to live with themselves, and that gets in the way of seeing themselves clearly.

I am amazed by a self-pitying rant on fb from someone I met once, who carried around with him the defining characteristic of his life, as if his heart was really on his sleeve. I can’t give details as it might identify him. He could just have walked away but was self-sacrificing; it could be noble, passive-aggressive, ridiculous, a pure act of love. I liked him. He was doing his best under difficult circumstances. Now I find he is on a fb group I am on, when I read his complaint of being accused of being a misogynist by the woman he chose to marry. Um. I read on and find she has sought an injunction against him for harassment. I don’t know whether this is the woman who did not participate in the self-sacrifice, or a different woman.

His self-righteousness is such that he can tell of her allegation of his being a control freak, even dangerous, and seek sympathy. He goes round healing workshops in tears. He’s been judged negatively. He shares his Great Wisdom: it is the sitting with, the processing, the allowing of the pain, that, as it works its way through me and out of me, seems to create space for a flowering, a blossoming to take place.

Look, mate, if she’s getting the courts and the police on you it’s time to back off, however much she has let you down. How is this working for you, exactly?

And another says, Bless you. You are a warrior. You believe in yourself, your broken vulnerable heart finds your way.

Ah, self-belief. What’s that like? Today I am thinking about a meeting, and rather than thinking what it might achieve I am thinking of all that could go wrong.

I have no idea what “good” is. I grew up with a Daily Mail morality, I am now hard-Left; I was conservative Christian- abortion bad, gay bad, saying “There is no health in us” in a general confession every week- and I am now liberal Christian. I lie, feel guilty about it, tell myself I could not do better. I can forgive myself a lot. Perhaps I get it wrong both ways, tolerating aspects I should seek to change, being hard on myself when I could do no other.

Also on fb: “Sometimes I’m so down on myself”. It is not just me. We judge ourselves and get unhappy. We direct our anger against ourselves rather than the world.

Will Self writes of a man who nurses his unrequited passion for a woman. She allowed him to attend her musical performances, but not to approach her. Instead, she allows him to write to her once a week, and he does, copiously. She never replies. This is insane. But romantic Love is not there to make us happy; it has no purpose at all, it just happens to have coincided with enough successful parturitions to be a common trait. If I think too often of a woman that I am nervous of seeing, if I cannot just switch that off, though it is not as bad as it was four months ago-

I want to be able to live with myself. I have all sorts of guilt and second-guessing, denial, misinterpretation; it could be a hiding to nothing. Can I free myself of any of this?

-Accept- it is as it is, I am as I am…
Every day is a new day…
act to achieve real-world desires not produce emotional states…


If pressed to define good, I would say it is whatever promotes human flourishing. That means the flourishing of the whole biosphere, and the fulfilment and happiness of the greatest number. Nietsche put it differently: What is good? Whatever augments the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man. What is evil? Whatever springs from weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power increases – that resistance is overcome. At the moment, I am not good by either definition. I am closer to the first, but far less than promoting human flourishing I am reduced to not causing much harm- and even on that, I am part of the oppression of food animals and third world sweat shops.

Jesus said, Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. I can’t manage my difficulty living with myself by calling myself in any meaningful way “good”. It involves too much denial. Perhaps I am good enough, as good as I can be. I have needs and desires and I act to gain them. My managing to live with myself is more about considering my intentions, and deciding they are good enough. This might be too high a price to pay; there might be better ways of living with myself.

It is as it is.
I am who I am.


The Good Life

Rossetti- Ecce Ancilla Domini

Turning this post over in my mind before writing, describing the Good Life for you, I realised I was describing my own. What is the Good way for a human to be? Autonomous, interdependent, loving, creative- like me, in fact. The Good Human, placed in my circumstances, produces my result.

Flippin’ heck. Okay- um…

There is more than one way of being human, more than one good life. Warrior and peacemaker, leader and follower, artist and rational thinker, all have their place. I am pleased to see my way of being as good. Perfect in my own way.

This is my 1000th post.

 And Now: A Poem!

Student of Socrates

Thought it was Des-Cart-Ease

When she first read him

What could have led him to
 Cogito Ergo Sum
 Truth to which all will come

Through sweet          


Here is Laura K, who wants to tell the gay man that God loves him, rather than that God condemns his sexual activity as sin. He will then convert to Christianity, and she will be able to explain to him what God has to say about his sexuality.

Mmm. I think this is better than making the first message that God finds homosexuality sinful. While moral philosophers have evolved many reasons why something might be thought good or bad, people who believe the Bible is self-consistent, inerrant and inspired can only say something is good or bad because a capricious God says so; and gay marriage is a case in point. What on Earth reasons could there be for finding it immoral, apart from that The Bible, Koran or whatever, condemns it?

The trouble with this is that I have grown and matured in the Church all my life, always self-identifying as Christian, and I disagree about the content of morality and the effect of the Bible verses. I am uncomfortable with Laura K appointing herself my teacher about sexual morality.

I contacted her through facebook, and she asked me to email her. I would love to hear your faith story, and how you came to know Jesus. I appreciate it when others share their honest walk- including struggles and victories. I am not sure I want to. Certainly not by email, which may be misunderstood so easily.

What I want to do first is build animal trust between us. Holding off on the things we disagree about, which are important to both of us, I want us to take communion together. I remember the sentiment from the Church of England Eucharist, but it is 1 Cor 10:17: Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.

I would like us to take it very slowly, and explore our areas of agreement over months sharing a church. These will be many, even if our disagreements are very important. If we could do something together, perhaps serving the coffee after worship together one Sunday, that would be good too. we might approach our areas of disagreement from a position of trust, respect and friendship. We might, after so long disagreeing, accept that we might continue to disagree after these discussions, but that there would be enough good each could perceive in the other to make continued fellowship worthwhile.

If we can make that leap of trust, and take on faith that there is that sufficient good in each other, then the dialogue on points of disagreement might start earlier.

One of the curses of Christians is that we hate disagreeing. It seems that if we disagree, at least one of us must be wrong, and we ascribe dreadful consequences to that wrong, perhaps even as dreadful as damnation. We used to burn each other at the stake so that the heretic could not pervert others to his evil falsehoods, imperilling their souls. If we become like little children we are less desperate for agreement on everything.

Feeling virtuous

I posted the photo, saying Something I can do which is absolutely Good, creative, and caring, with absolutely no down-side, and D commented, And makes one feel virtuous. Words…

Bernard Crick, commenting on the lessons of Wells’s Mr Polly and Orwell’s George Bowling, writes: Life is all right, good even, if one looks at it with the simple wonder of a child exploring everything as new, or with the heightened delight in ordinary things of a stoical person who knows that he or she is soon to die. Does one call this the mysticism of common sense? Though both Bowling and Polly have run away from their tedious lives and jobs, which got all too much for them.

I certainly did want to feel virtuous: I look back at that time and it is quite clear from what I did and how I was. And- I was not conscious of it at the time. I knew that I wanted to be good, which is a different thing. I consciously wanted to be good, because unconsciously otherwise I did not have a right to exist. As my morality changed from that of the Daily Mail to that of the Quakers I still wanted to be Good.

Mark 10:18:  ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good – except God alone.’  I don’t think Jesus is denying being Good here, so much as challenging concepts of what Good is. Are we good enough? Perhaps it does not matter: analysing how Good a past act is, is- I was going to say, backward looking, ineffective, I am not sure of that. Circumstances alter cases. Sometimes useful. Something not to do “too much”.

Now, I want- I claim- that sensation of being in the Moment, mind and body integrated, carrying out a purpose. I would have called it a Spiritual Experience, an amazing wonder, and as I have it more it remains a delight, a heightened way of being. Like in my kata practice this morning. I want my Taigyoku Shodan to be beautiful: torso upright, head gliding at the same level not bobbing up and down, hips on or off properly, place the foot not fall onto it, turn with the legs after placing the foot rather than throwing onesself round- so much detail to master, the most important being full power at the moment of the block or strike, with relaxed movement to that point. The body just does the move, without effort, because conscious effort actually gets in the way.

It is perfectly beautiful and delightful, and I still make excuses and find myself not doing it, or stay in bed a bit longer. I have moments checking my watch in my meditation space, and also moments with delight- why on Earth would one avoid it? Do you avoid your meditation time? Can you imagine why?

Reducing suffering

Amrita: Many people, people who have been active in causes of one sort or another, are concerned that if they awaken they will lose their drive to reduce suffering in the world. They are afraid of losing who they know themselves to be. One needn’t worry about this, or even have concern. There may be a period of readjustment where certain activities are reduced or cease altogether; that’s a needed time of reorientation. The very cells of the body are undergoing a powerful transformation.

I have done a power of good, and that has been a way for me to tolerate myself. And, I am not, at the moment. I have given up on the CAB, and spend my time in my flat. I thought, I do nothing- but I still give regularly to a particular charity, and I attend the Quaker meeting.

“‎Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” – John Stuart Mill. God has no hands but ours, but there are seven billion of us, and enough other people are doing good at the moment. It is not all up to me.

I am struck how little I know myself. I phoned a company, and failed to get through their security check. When I phoned again, I started by explaining that sometimes my voice seemed male over the phone, and was amazed how distressed I became. I had repeated phone calls for James Sims, whom I have not heard of. I said it was a wrong number, and eventually with my male voice pretended to be James Sims, demanding to know who was calling. My anger amazed me.

So what seems ridiculous and weak and worthless in me is a different perspective. I can just about believe that I am healing, even growing, though it feels like a retreat.


A blogging friend asked “What is the good life?” of her many regular commenters, and I went off on one. Quietly, you know, I am alone, my mouth purses and angry words gush through my head. NOT MINE! is the first thought. My temptation is to define the Good Life in terms of what I want and do not have.

The thought came,

I want to be cherished.

Oh! The wedding-vows word! I am cherishing myself, as best I know how, now.

The good life is in a good community, where each person is nurtured, and their talents developed and used for the good of all. Now, you know! You read it here first!