If you want to be good, trust your instincts – and others.
There are innumerable philosophers, religious leaders and authors who have filled libraries defining “good” people, and they generally disagree when it comes to details. The main problem is that humans are messy creatures. When we look at others, we see people equally capable of good and bad deeds. It’s a matter of survival to determine whether or not we can trust them to choose good more often than bad and, therefore, whether we should be good to them or shield ourselves from them.
So how do we determine whom to trust? Generally, we start from the inside. We experience an emotional response to just about everything – our “gut” tells us what feels right or wrong. Life gives us moral guides in the form of loved ones, spiritual advisers, significant experiences and so on. Every moment, our moral code becomes richer, more detailed, more solidified.
So when people do awful things, our judgment tells us this: “I wouldn’t do that; the people who are like me wouldn’t do that, so the bad things are being done by the people who are different from me.” To survive, we shield ourselves and those who are like us from those whom we think are different. The problem is we don’t always provide ourselves with enough information.
If there was a stranger about to be hit by a bus, would you say: “Quick! Who did you vote for? What’s your religious affiliation? Yankees or Red Sox?”
Given enough reaction time, you would move to save that person. That instinct is not unique to one religion, political party or cultural group – it is a human instinct.
You see evidence of this instinct during the darkest of times – strangers who drag others from burning buildings, strangers who hold on tight to a person about to jump from a bridge or strangers who use their bodies to protect others from a shooter. In the face of disaster, people you have never met saved people they had never met, completing an action almost every human associates with goodness.
Stories like the ones above remind us that goodness can come from anyone, and the human instinct has always been to nurture that which is good for us. When we find more in common with others, we have a greater capacity to be good to them.
So find your common ground and realize that the common ground has room for more people than you think. ￼
Rhianna Taylor-Cummings was born and raised in Bakersfield. After graduating from CSUB with a bachelor’s in English and minor in communications, she moved across the country twice with her husband, an explosive ordnance disposal technician for the U.S. Army. The views expressed in this column are her own.