The Scourge of Good People

The Stonewall Inn Vigil for victims of the shooting in Orlando. June 13, 2016 / via Flickr user corellianjedi2

For months, I’ve been struggling with how we talk about terrible things. Unfortunately, I have had ample opportunity to witness our consistent rhetorical failure and the collateral damage left in its wake. Because our inability to talk about the terrible has doomed us to repeat ourselves.

The shooting in Orlando is the reason I write this now. Any one of a dozen moments in recent history is the reason I’m writing this at all.

At some point, we all decided that there were two types of people: “good” and “bad.” We anointed the good, damned the bad and congratulated ourselves on a job well done. Life was simple.

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However, our notions of good and bad were markedly similar to the notions that kept the powers that be in power:

White was good; black was bad.
Straight was good; gay was bad.
Rich was good; poor was bad.
Man was good; woman was bad.
We were good; they were bad.

Humanity loved the binaries while ignoring that these same binaries removed our humanity.

We convinced ourselves that being good was something you were: an immutable state reflected by your position in these binaries. We named this system “the greater good” and we made goodness the God we chose to worship.

We punished those who questioned the system.
We killed for the greater good.
We celebrated our righteousness.
We rinsed and repeated.

We decided — because good was something you were as opposed to something you did — that it was okay for us to ignore the fact that humanity is terrible at making that type of assessment in real time. We mistook our instincts for information; our opinions for facts. We used compromised data to determine that some are good and others are bad.

I no longer have any patience for good people.

We looked at the people we deemed good people and removed from them anything that we found to be contradictory. We excised anything that complicated them. We told ourselves that mistakes were made. We told ourselves that boys will be boys. We told ourselves that bad things won’t happen to us. Bad things won’t happen in our city. Bad things won’t happen in our school. Bad things won’t happen in our movie theater. In our club. In our house. Bad things won’t happen because we’re good people and things like this and that and this other thing and that other thing only happen to bad people. We analyze each tragedy in search of the good people so we can fit them into our flawed narratives and continue on with our lives.

“He couldn’t have done that, he’s a good swimmer.
“She couldn’t have done that, she’s a good teacher.
“He couldn’t have done that, he’s a good actor.
“He couldn’t have done that, he’s a good comedian.
“I would never do that, I’m a good person.”

I no longer have any patience for good people.

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The events in Orlando have demonstrated (again) for me why “good people” are a scourge. A bad man killed 50 people and injured 53 more. These people were mostly Latinx and queer. And we rush to make sure we know if those killed or injured were good people. Good people spend time fighting to preserve what it means to be “good” rather than acknowledge that “good” has destroyed lives.

We look for the stories of the good son texting his mother or the good, committed couple who will be buried together. We want to hear about the good high school graduates taking their first steps into the world. We need to know if these people fit into our good/bad binary before we can decide to mourn them.

Real people are more valuable than any binary.

I want to hear the stories of these lives. I value these lives. However, I resent that these stories are deemed necessary because we won’t mourn if they aren’t deemed good people. I no longer have tears for good people.

I weep for the person who may have sold sex or drugs to survive.
I weep for the person who was blackout drunk.
I weep for the person who took naked photos.
I weep for the gender nonconforming.
I weep for the thugs.
I weep for the sluts.
I weep for the forgotten.
I weep for the dismissed.

I weep because the bad ones are our responsibility, too.

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Good people birthed Omar Mateen.
Good people birthed Brock Turner.
Good people birthed Dylann Roof.
Good people birthed Adam Lanza.
Good people birthed James Eagan Holmes.
Good people birthed Daniel Holtzclaw.
Good people are just as liable for this nonsense as the rest of us.

Samantha Bee explains this better than I can.

I’m tired of good people’s heartfelt social media posts and witty comebacks. I’m tired of contextualizing inhumanity. I’m tired of sifting through the detritus of my emotional responses to tragedy after tragedy after tragedy just to be able to write something coherent. And I’m tired of good people offering platitudes without action.

I need good people to be better.
We all need good people to be better.