By CL Bledsoe
Here’s something I’ve noticed: good people tend to think they’re terrible people. Terrible people, on the other hand, tend to think they’re good. I read an article a while back about weight loss that said that, to lose weight and keep it off, a person has to basically become obsessed with what they eat. I think being a good person is like that; you have to be obsessed with your own actions. It’s not a switch you can flick; you have to actively strive to be a good person all the time.
This is all theoretical, of course, because I’m fat and genuinely terrible. But this isn’t about me.
My sister is a good person, but she often thinks she’s not. This probably comes from how we were raised. I think she was taught to blame herself for imagined failures, for not living up to genuinely crappy people’s standards, for being human.
A perfect example of this would be some of the people we went to church with, who seemed to go out of their way to make us feel uncomfortable and unwanted at their church services that were mostly about Jesus, who was known for his inclusiveness.
My sister has always been good, though. Even in our earlier life, there are shared experiences that she looks back on and regrets, whereas I can see that they were often positive formative experiences for me, ones that made me feel loved and seen, when I wasn’t getting that from anywhere else. My sister is the kind of person who will send a note just to say she’s thinking of you, who will ask about your day and really want an answer. And if someone gave you a hard time, she will instantly take your side. She will give you her last dollar without hesitation, if you need it. She is sincere in a jaded world. My sister has taught me most of what I know about being a decent person. All of this in the midst of her own struggles.
She has taught me how to be a decent parent in less-than-ideal circumstances, that the grandiose gesture means little; it’s being present, every day, that matters. Though the grandiose gesture is still nice from time to time. She has taught me that sitting with someone and listening to them means more than just about anything, certainly more than money (which is a good thing, because neither of us is likely to ever have much).
I draw from these lessons as a parent. One of my favorite things to do with my daughter is make up stories to encourage my daughter’s creativity, but mostly to have fun. I also try to share things about the world that are interesting and surprising. I remember, when I was a kid, I’d share some science factoid with my father. A high-school dropout, he was often critical of anything he perceived as calling attention to his lack of education. Similarly, as a teacher, I’ve seen bad teachers who are intimidated by their students, and I’ve seen and experienced how easy it is to be shut down by an authority figure. It doesn’t matter to me if my daughter places in the top percentiles in standardized testing (I did, and it didn’t do me a bit of good). What matters to me is that she has curiosity about the world.
My sister has had a hard life, but she still manages to face every new struggle with optimism and determination. I think, ultimately, none of us know what we’re doing; we’re just trying our best. The point is to keep trying. I’ve looked to my sister as a model of how to be in the world ever since I was little. I think this has been one of the best choices of my life. If I can be like her with my own daughter, I think I’ll be doing okay.