I decided to take some time off of my shameless plugging in order to discuss something that is often, if not always, on my mind.
I am a nice person. I am always polite to people. I hold doors open. I compliment people for no other reason than to make them feel good. But am I a good person? There’s a difference, and being nice does not necessarily equate to being good.
I’m not saying that I am a bad person. I don’t think that there are many truly bad people in the world. There’s a current book out whose name I can’t remember. It says that one out of twenty people, 5% of the population, are sociopathic. They have no ability to feel empathy, or to act in any way other than for their own benefit. We all know at least one sociopath (I happen to know several). Not all of them are criminals or even noticeable in their sociopathy, but all of them are incurably selfish.
We are all selfish at one time or another, but that doesn’t make the person “bad.” Being selfish all of the time–being unable to be anything but selfish–that’s bad. Of course, there are other kinds of evil too. There are many normal people out there that have explosive tempers, or purposefully hurt someone to fill a need inside of them. I think these are learned traits, though, and different from sociopathic behavior. They’re just assholes.
I play a lot of roleplaying games. In D & D, they have something called “Alignment.” This is where you decide your character’s world view on an ethical (law vs chaos) and moral (good vs evil) scale. When I was younger, I used to argue with my DM that people were inherently good, and it was ethics that were variable. He countered that most people are neutral: they care about family and friends, maybe even the greater world around them, but they do little to help anyone outside their immediate circle.
I was an idealist. I am not anymore. I think that my DM is right. You can be a nice person, but unless you are taking an active stance towards improving the world, you are neutral. “Good” is reserved for heroism in RPGs, and in a lesser sense, in real life.
Because I’m a writer, and especially because I write speculative fiction, I am constantly grappling with the nature of good and evil. Song of Simon, for example. Simon begins as a “nice guy,” but an ordinary guy. He has fears, he has moments of selfishness. He makes bad decisions that come back to haunt him. Yet the novel is about him growing from a “nice person” into a “good person,” a person that will take a stand to defend what is right.
There are other characters in Song of Simon that are not quite so heroic. And there are those that appear heroic, but have done (and do) horrible things. I tried to show the variability of what is good and what is evil. Good and evil isn’t black and white. It isn’t even shades of gray. Good and evil is every color in the rainbow and every shade therein. It’s alizarin crimson and yellow ochre. It’s midnight blue and aquamarine. There are no simple answers to be found.
As for me, I’m going to make a change. I’m tired of just being a nice person. I want to be a good person. I want to help, and I’m gonna find some way to do it.