I’m writing a show called ‘You do not have to be good’, inspired by the beginning of one of my favourite Mary Oliver poems, ‘Wild Geese’:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
I want to explore the desire to be good in all its permutations, and how far from being a positive thing, the desire to be good limits us, distracts from being the person we really could be.
So for the next thirty days I am going to write a response to the thirty different definitions of ‘good’ that I found in the Collins Concise dictionary. I’d love to hear your responses too. What does being good mean to you?
Having admirable, superior or positive qualities. Not mediocre, negative or bad.
We all know that girl. At school, her sleek, blonde hair clasped back in a smooth ponytail. A little taller than the rest. Socks pulled up just below the knees, tie straight, white shirt neatly pressed. An A* student, articulate, always knows the answer, the books in her locker stacked in ascending order of width, a prayer book at the top. She’s Class Captain, Head Girl material all the way. She gets to pick the team at netball, sing solo in choir and is taking Grade Eight piano this summer. All the boys want to go out with her, but she’s been seeing Charlie since she was thirteen. On Valentine’s Day he arranged for a bouquet of roses to be delivered to her at registration, and wrote her out a cheque for a 100000 love hearts. Yeah.
And if you’re the girl who’s trying to emulate that, but you’re a bit scruffy, you’ve got wild, curly hair and though your brain is quick, your mind tends to wander off in class on flights of fancy about being an Olympic superstar or the next Judi Dench….if you put off your weekend homework until after you’ve watched The Professionals at 9pm on Sunday night, you’re going to be a bit disappointed with yourself. You’re not even going to notice what you do have a talent for because you’re too busy trying to prove yourself in so many other directions. The ones other people notice. The ones that ‘count.’ Yep. This is when you become an Approval Whore. Because if other people think you’re good, you must be alright. Never mind if it’s all fake, and it’s not really you… except if they actually like that fake you – the image of good you’re trying to portray - then they don’t like you. Because they haven’t seen the real you – the messy, curly, tripping over words you – so they can’t like you. You didn’t let them see it. So you still don’t feel loved. Oh.
Maybe, if you became really good, then people would love you. If you were super-actualised blonde supermodel and heart surgeon with several degrees and a charitable foundation in your name and a few hit singles on the side…then. Then people might love you. Because that’s totally you, isn’t it. Totally, absolutely who you are.
By the way, if that is who you are, fantastic. Keep doing it. The world needs people like you. And the world needs people like me too. Doing the thing they’re actually good at, not what they think makes them look good.