I’m learning a lot about the Midwest now that I live here. Drivers are friendlier. Almost anyone will let you into their lane. NO ONE HONKS. They’ll sit at a green light for 45 seconds while you finish your text message and not say a word. They’ll even inquire if you need anything and help you out if you do.
Everyone and their mom (left, right, and center) has a gun. All for different reasons. People sincerely believe the woods (they call it “the country”) is good for your soul and 2,700 mosquitos did not just bite you and you’re not about to die from heat stroke.
There are a lot more tattoos than I recall seeing in the northeast. I’m in the minority here without any. And football. Wow. I’m from Texas and it is somehow more football intense here in Missouri than it was in my hometown.
Most of the cultural differences have been charming, tbh. But there is ONE I have yet to acclimate to. This one is prevalent throughout the U.S., but I noticed it in the Midwest more because it is PERVASIVE. And also because it may have cost me some friendships.
I call it the “but she’s a good person” deception.
Here’s what it looks like in conversation:
- She cheated on me, but she’s a good person.
- She stole $2,000 from her son, but she’s a good person.
- He is an absent father, but he’s a good person.
- They left Rhonda for dead, but they’re a good person.
If I run over your toe with my car, it doesn’t matter that I “didn’t mean to and I’m a good person.” I still ran over your toe. I am responsible for that. Your toe is broken. I did it. AND ALSO I am still a good person. Because morality has nothing to do with any of this.
The moralizing is throwing me for a loop.
We don’t get to determine who is good or bad. That is none of our business. Your approval of my moral goodness has zero to do with my actions being harmful and my being responsible for my harmful actions.
In addition to this being a deeply irritating cultural quirk, it troubles me because it goes hand in hand with a sort of….denialism.
As if – because she’s a good person – it is therefore OK that she acted in a way that harmed you.
“She’s really a good person” is code. It’s a cover-up. A rationalization. And frankly, a distraction from the truth. The truth is someone did something YOU don’t approve of.
And maybe that person is you. Maybe you did something you don’t approve of.
Integrating “I did a bad thing” with “I am a good person” is hard. Most of us choose to either deny we did the bad thing or excuse the bad thing with “but she’s a good person,” “But she’s no nice,” “He has a good heart,” “She means well!”
Maturity is the ability to hold two conflicting thoughts together at once in your mind:
“She did a bad thing. And I like her.”
“She did a bad thing. And I’m not sure we can have a relationship anymore.”
“I did a bad thing. And I’m not sure I like myself.”
“I did a bad thing. And I’m a good person. But I am responsible for the bad thing I did.”
Denial is a protective mechanism against pain. When we deny reality by rationalizing or excusing behavior that is harmful, we avoid the emotional consequences of our behavior.
That is dangerous because if we cannot confront that pain and OWN our behavior – or hold others accountable for theirs – we can never get to the next most important part: repair.
In order to have repair, you have to admit that you’ve something done wrong. You can’t say “forgive me” without saying “I did this.”
Amends demand an admission.
If we want to do the work of changing the world we have to tell the truth:
We are all good people. And sometimes good people do very bad things.
We are responsible for our behavior. Even if we didn’t mean to do it. Even if we know better. Even and especially, if we’re a good person.
PS: Yesterday was Yom Kippur, which means I’m contractually obligated to remind you that if you haven’t read Why Won’t You Apologize by Harriet Lerner you may do so now.
If you’re like me and believe this topic is irrelevant or niche, then you must read it immediately. It’s quite possibly the most important conversation we are not having in this country.
If reading is not your jam, you can catch this two-part podcast between Harriet and Brene Brown.
Gmar chatima tova