Monday, June 15, 2015

Lead with Good

I suspect most people reach a point in their lives where they need to step back and assess why they are attracted to certain types of people. I have long known that the sort of people I seek out and intentionally befriend are people who are very smart and very funny. As early as elementary school, I can remember strategically placing myself on choir risers next to girls who made me laugh so loud I got in trouble. In every class I took in my undergrad, I would sit back for the first few weeks while, in answering profs' questions, the critical thinkers separated themselves from the blowhards before deciding who I wanted to hang out with after class. 

I have never taken a psychology course, but I don't think I'd be too off base in surmising that my attraction to funny, smart people stems from my desire to be like them. I think we're all copy cats, in that we reflect the qualities we most want from the people we most want to be like. And my whole life, I've desperately wanted to be smart and funny.

More importantly, I wanted people to think I was smart and funny.

And sure, I wanted to be kind and thoughtful and sensitive, too. But only as tertiary qualities to cleverness and humour.

Last year, I was venting at length to a colleague about how the "real world" doesn't appreciate the work it takes to get a Masters degree, and how I was smarter than a lot of people who are doing the work I want to be doing. And he looked at me without any hint of irony and asked, quite honestly, "But who cares if you're smart?"

We all have those moments where you finally get a glimpse of the image you've crafted of yourself, and you don't like what you see. Because I had spent all these years desperately cultivating an identity that had no greater purpose beyond itself. Because intelligence doesn't matter if no one understands you or cares enough to listen to what you have to say. And no one laughs at your jokes if they don't sense community, because half of the job of successful comedy is making the audience feel like they're in on the joke.

And I realized that my obsession with being funny and smart was actually an obsession with being liked and respected. And you don't earn either of those by being narcissistic.

I was listening to the Harmontown podcast a few weeks ago, and they were talking about their friend Spencer, who was in absentia that particular episode. They took his absence as a moment to talk about what it is that makes him such an attractive person:

Spencer is one of the most charming, genuine, moral people I think I've ever met and that's just part of the allure [...] 
We all have our qualities, that are sort of our "lead qualities" - and also I think that we're all good people, but Spencer is one of the few that the first quality I'd say about him is good. Spencer is a good person. And not that we're not good people, but he leads with good. 
[...] He wants to do the right thing and he thinks about that a lot. He doesn't want to do the popular thing [...] he thinks about being a good person.


I've long believed that it's easy to be nice, but it's hard to be good. And when these people - people with money and fame and dedicated fans, talked about their friend and his goodness, their tone was almost reverent. In that moment, the normally raunchy and chaotic podcast turned gentle and respectful. Because goodness is difficult. It is pure and it is noble and it is holy, and it is for and about other people.

I've noticed a change in the past 6 months or so of the sorts of people I gravitate towards. My old friends - the ones who've stuck around, and new people I've come to like and respect: they are all good.

They are also funny and smart, as well as thoughtful, creative, feisty, attentive, caring, encouraging. But they lead with good. And it's so easy to not be good. It's so easy to not think about others at all, and to just do and say what is easy and expected. It's easy to be polite.

But what I've noticed about good people is that, because goodness requires effort and hard work, that it is not only easy to like them, it is easy to love them, too. When you radiate goodness, you can't help but bring a little bit of love out, too. And that's the kind of person I want to be.

And even though I value my skills as a critical thinker, and I still think I'm the funniest person on the internet (just kidding, that title goes to Katie Heaney), I hope someday, when I'm not around and my friends are talking about me on a podcast, they'll say that I lead with good.

1 comment:

Valerie Barter said...

I love this idea. Thanks for giving me something to ponder Jillian!