I considered myself to be a good person. Certainly not a racist.
After the death of George Floyd, and witnessing the unspeakable pain of so many people in the Black community, I felt shook up. I wanted to learn more about racism. And as I started learning, I realized that I would never be able to contribute anything positive unless I stopped viewing myself as good.
In a book I recently read, The Person You Mean to Be, professor Dolly Chugh talks about the downsides to believing in our own fundamental goodness.
To start with, we become victims of our own blind-spots. When confronted with evidence that we didn’t meet our own high moral standards, we push back, get defensive and shut down. We turn conversations about racism and bias into an opportunity for self-affirmation. We become self-righteous. And we don’t learn.
It turns out that to become kinder, more generous human beings, we need to stop thinking of ourselves as good people.
Drawing on the research of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, Chugh says that “good-ish” people have a “growth mindset” and can improve with time, effort, and feedback. “Good people” have a “fixed mindset.” They assume their character has already been shaped and that there is nothing that can be done about it.
I’ve known Dweck’s work for a long, long time but somehow I haven’t thought of applying it to my sense of ethics before. The moment I did was a real eye-opener: I realized that by identifying as a good person, I’m letting myself off the hook and pointing a finger at someone else.
Identifying as good keeps me trapped in my ignorance, my unconscious bias, and in the role of a passive observer of the injustices that have been going on for way too long.
I also realized that I have a choice. I can choose to let go of seeing myself as a good person. I can choose to admit that I’m not good — and embrace being good-ish.
Being goodi-ish means admitting that while I might have good intentions, they don’t always translate. It’s admitting that I have things to learn, things to fix, and things to do to challenge a system that excludes and dehumanizes…