When I was a boy, I spent one week every summer at the YMCA summer camp. It was an awesome time to play games, do arts and crafts, and occasionally run into very naked, very old men in the locker rooms before swim lessons. I’m sure today there’s a tad more vigilance.
Anyway, the Y gave out superlatives at the end of the week. The crown jewel was “Honor Camper,” rewarded to the best camper of the week. More than anything, I hoped for that superlative. I’m not quite sure how I pulled it off, but I won the thing twice and was immensely proud of myself.
Truly, I won because I was a good boy. There were no prizes for rebels. If a bully picked on me, I let him (or her) do so. No way was I gonna fight and risk my chance of Honor Camper. (Life ruiner.)
As I’ve grown, the desire to be a good boy, or good guy, has followed. I think most of us strive for some moral ideal.
I’m just not sure it’s working.
I mean really, why do we call people “good guys”? What does that mean? I consider all of my friends “good guys.” I even put myself in that category.
But why am I a good guy? It can only be because there are bad guys. What concept have we of good if we have no concept of bad? When people say “Carson is a good guy,” I think they mean I am likable, friendly and seem to care about others. But I can fit almost everyone I know in that category. There’s a crapload of good guys.
It seems the real reason we’re good guys is we are rarely overtly bad. I don’t punch kittens or steal bananas or get wrapped up in man slaughtering. I’m not a jailbird or a conniver or an asshole. I obey the law and go on my way.
I like to think by not being overtly bad, or physically afflicting my neighbor, I’m in the higher eshelon of guys. But I must be fair in my comparisons. If I take a look at who’s beneath, I should certainly look at who’s ahead.
And darn if there aren’t many.
Pastors, rabbis, imans, Dhali Llamas, social workers, philanthropists, special needs teachers and Salvation Army bell ringers are trumping me on providing welfare to the common man.
So now, I’m like, maybe in the upper middle tier of good dudes. But honestly, why do I even care where I stand on the moral ladder?
Because I am constantly observing other men for validation.
In a strange way, their goodness is a threat to me and there badness is a comfort. If I see a jerk cuss out a grocery bagger, I’m thinking “some day he’ll get his.” But if I see a man feed a homeless guy I just passed, I worry “on what day will I get mine?” This constant vascillation of affirmation and concern is so ingrained in my thinking I hardly notice it.
But when I do stop and think of it, and realize I attribute “good guy” to other good and not so good men, I’m really left quite unaware of where I stand. What to do?
I could fall back on karma. After all, I’m acutely aware of where the other guys are screwing up. And it’s satisfying to believe they’ll get what they deserve. Convenient really, until I think about when I’m gonna get what I deserve. There were times I sucked today. Am I really impervious to bad karma?
Who’s dishing the karma out to us good guys and sorta good guys anyway? Some detached cosmic force perfectly rewarding our goodness and unforgivingly punishing our badness? What a vacuous, impersonal atrocity that would have to be.
Maybe more goodness or less badness than others isn’t the standard. What if the standard is perfection? What if I should be striving to be the perfect being? What’s left for me if I fall short? The only seemingly perfect being in history I can think of is Jesus, and even he rebuked a man for calling him good! “Only God is good,” Jesus said.
Perfection seems as distant to me as another galaxy. I fear that I’m a lot closer to the opposite. Damn. Well shall I compare myself to a real baddy? How about Hitler? I’m not as evil as that dude was.
But what if I’m a helluva lot closer to Hitler than Jesus? As far as I know, I’m light years away from complete goodness and a modicum from utter depravity.
In my strivings to be a good guy, I’m left to feel hopeless in my pursuit. My ranking system seems to be unreliable at best and damning at worst. I have zero clue where I fall in the order of good guys. What if I come in 109,000th place of all time? Pretty good considering the many billions who have ever lived. But will it leave my judge impressed?
Good guyness is fool’s gold. Most of us who pursue it are unpleasantly rewarded with pride or self-pity. The gold, I think, is grace.
An acknowledgement that I can never measure up to the perfection I was created for, and the outrageous peace of knowing I don’t have to.
An acknowledgement of a radical truth that I can be a crappy guy and am still loved.
An acknowledgement that I can stop toiling to climb the moral ladder—because it doesn’t freaking matter—and come to my Creator as an empty vessel of a man that He can pour His goodness into.
I want to be a graced guy.