A Test to Work Out if You’re a Good Person – Free Ebook

There is really only one question you ever
need to direct at someone to work out whether

or not they are a good person – and that is,
with deliberate simplicity: Do you think you

are a good person? And to this there is only
one acceptable answer. People who are genuinely

good, people who know about kindness, patience,
forgiveness, compromise, apology and gentleness

always, always answer no.

One cannot both be a good person and at the
same time feel either blameless or pure inside.

Goodness is, one might say, the unique consequence
of a keen and ongoing awareness of one’s

capacity to be bad, that is, to be thoughtless,
cruel, self-righteous and deaf to the legitimate

needs of others. Only on the basis of a perpetual
vigilant impression that one hasn’t got

the right to judge oneself above suspicion,
does one come anywhere near the ethical high

standard that merits the title of ‘good’
(a word one can still never use of oneself).

The price of being genuinely good has to be
a constant suspicion that one might be a monster

  • combined with a fundamental hesitation about
    labelling anyone else monstrous. A guilty

conscience is the bedrock of virtue.

Correspondingly, only properly bad people
don’t lie awake at night worrying about

their characters. It has generally never occurred
to the most difficult or dangerous people

on the planet that they might be lacking.
Their sickness is to locate evil always firmly

outside of themselves: it’s by definition
invariably the others who are to blame, the

others who are cruel, sinful, lacking in judgement
and mistaken. And their job is to take these

impure people down and correct their evils
in the fire of their own righteousness.

It is a grim paradox that the worst deeds
that humans have ever been guilty of have

been carried out by people with an easy conscience,
people who felt they were definitely on the

side of angels, people who were entirely sure
that they had justice in hand. What unites

the people who report their neighbours to
the secret police, the crowds who burn their

victims at stakes while dancing around their
agonised bodies, the government officials

who set up purification camps and the nations
that wipe out their enemies with special barbarism

is their consistent and overwhelming sense
that they are doing the right thing – in the

eyes of god, history or Truth. When trying
to understand why people do evil things, never

start from the position of imagining that
they understood them as evil; remember that

they would have carried out their nastiness
cocksure that they were paragons. An impassioned

feeling of being the instrument of justice
has been at the heart of humanity’s most

appallingly unkind moments.

It is a hallmark of all the cruellest ages
of history that certain groups decide that

they have landed on a cause that gives them
a monopoly on justice: that a particular god

has given them a special mission to eradicate
sin or when their study of economics or biology

have shown them one true path to an upright
future – at which point there is no limit

to the number of eggs that can be broken to
concoct the righteous omelette. And by implication,

the kindest stretches of history are those
when a majority daily awake wondering how

they might go easy on others because they
are so flawed themselves, when a sense of

scepticism and apology dominates every social
exchange, when one is constantly charitable

in word and deed from a sense of impeachability

  • and when people can always readily forgive

because they know how much in them needs
to be forgiven.

“Who am I?” is a book designed to help us create a psychological portrait of who we are; with the use of some unusual, oblique, entertaining and playful prompts.

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