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The Goodness of People
I don’t know if you’ve ever had this happen to you: you’re walking into a building, someone holds the door for you, and then they turn and look at your, all irritated, and say you’re welcome, and walk off in a huff. Maybe you were lost in thought, and didn’t say thank you, maybe you’re from New York, where people aren’t especially polite, maybe you were going to say it, but they interrupted you, and now this person is going to sit down at their computer and log onto Facebook and write about how terrible people are and how the world is going to hell.
So, for starters, impolite people are not bad people. Politeness has to do with social norms, which vary in different parts of the country, and sure, someone who is impolite might be a bit self-absorbed, but self-absorbed people still go to heaven. The point of me bringing this up is that what a lot of people think of as “good” and “bad” have nothing to do with goodness or badness. It’s just disagreements between people. The guy at work who you think is a scumbag is probably not a scumbag. He probably has no idea that he fucked you over.
That’s not to say that there aren’t bad people, or at least people with moral failings. Let me tell you something: I could have written about a lot more misbehavior in Street Freak than I actually did. People doing bad things, or even illegal things. I’m not in the business of ruining people’s lives, and I didn’t want people to get hurt by the book—even people I personally disliked. So I poked fun at their foibles and their eccentricities and left it at that. If you’re a trader, or a sales trader, you have lots of opportunities, every day, to be bad. People make these calculations every day, about what they expect to gain and how often they gain, and what they expect to lose and how often they lose. There are rules on Wall Street, but no ethics. There are ethics in the CFA program, but it is all arcane bullshit.
But yeah, I have met a handful of morally challenged people in my life. And when I say morally challenged, I am referring to people who will hurt someone on purpose. There are degrees. Someone who sleeps with a co-worker is morally challenged, but it is a weakness of the flesh. You don’t end up in bed with someone completely by accident, but one thing leads to another, and—you can see how it goes. I put character assassination on another level of badness. When you engage in this behavior, you’re trying to destroy another person. Some people dedicate their entire lives to the destruction of another person. Some people have dedicated their entire lives to the destruction of Trump, which is pretty nuts if you think about it. Some people get paid good money to sit in front of a computer every day and destroy Trump. He’s probably the least sympathetic character in the galactic supercluster, but he’s still a human being. No empathy.
Which brings me to Twitter. Twitter is a vicious place. It’s really not the greatest design for a social media platform, where Rando Calrissian building model airplanes and pouring money into OnlyFans can just reach out and ruin your day. It doesn’t matter who you are—anyone with over 10,000 followers has experienced hate online. Oftentimes it has nothing to do with politics—it could be about your personal appearance. People tell me I’m fat all the time. You might have a difference of opinion on the bond market, and people take it personally, and call you a fraud, grifter, or worse. Women seem to think they have a bad time of it online, but I’m not so sure they have it worse than men. What strikes me about this is how many people there are out there who are willing to attack someone without provocation. What is the definition of a good person? Don’t hurt people and don’t take their stuff. After a while, you start to think everyone is a turd, and you have a warped view of human nature. But as human beings, we focus on the bad people more than the good people—for every turd, there are a thousand people who support you completely. If you want to know what people have the most pessimistic outlook on human nature, it is cops. They deal with turds all the time, so they think everyone is a turd, when in fact that is not the case.
In fact, the vast majority of people are good. There are good drug addicts. There are good prostitutes. I even believe that some murderers are good. Don’t believe me? Ever see the Shawshank Redemption? Of course, you have. Red was a murderer. It wasn’t mentioned in the film, but it was in the novella that it was based on. I believe that some people make mistakes, even big mistakes. I believe that some people have lapses in judgment. I believe that some people have moral failings and low impulse control. I also believe that these people can feel remorse and experience regret, and do penance. If you find that you’re consumed with hatred of another person, and you’re actually taking time out of your day to do harm to them, then you’ve given in to the Dark Side.
A special word about infidelity: a few paragraphs ago I excused it. Infidelity is violence—violence to the institution of marriage. It is the ultimate betrayal of trust. Marriages can survive strip clubs and carousing and such, but they frequently can’t survive an emotional betrayal. My experience with this is that infidelity doesn’t usually happen when the marriage is going well. It usually happens when the marriage is already going poorly, and oftentimes, people use this as an easy (but traumatic) way to end the marriage. My suggestion is: if you’re not happy in the marriage, then tell your spouse that you’re not happy. You then have three options: end the marriage, fix the marriage, or limp along with a sucky marriage. The third option is the worst, obviously. The fourth option, to blow it to smithereens by getting some strange, is not a good option. You might go to hell if you cheat on your spouse. Just saying. But the worst hell would be to get away with it.
I spend a lot of time thinking about what it means to be a good person and trying to be a good person. Let me tell you, it does not come easy to me, but it’s one of those things that, if you work at it, you get better. The guy who does not return any of your calls and text messages is not a bad person. He’s just wrapped up in his own shit, and one day, he’ll regret it, or he won’t. He’s just on a different path. The thing with trying to be a good person is that you’re still going to piss people off—it’s inevitable. But these are simply differences between people, and have nothing to do with right or wrong. I’m sure there are some people out there who think I’m a bad person, for some perceived slight, or something, real or imagined. Not much I can do about it. Christianity tells us to love our neighbor—even when our neighbor isn’t following the script we have for him in our heads. The key here is forgiveness, and another way of saying that is: be gentle with people.
Don’t get me wrong, I still lock my car and my house. There are some creepy-crawlies out there. There are people out there with nothing to lose, who will hurt people just to hurt people. That’s why we live in our gated communities with our ADT and motion-sensing lights. But the vast majority of people are not like that. People are good. I believe in the goodness of people. And even so, I am always surprised when someone does something nice for me.