By Arese Sylvester.
Season 11, Episode 1 of CSI features the MAO-A gene. It’s a brief mention, but it’s enough to keep me awake at night. A quick Wikipedia search tells me that it’s a gene associated with several psychiatric disorders, including antisocial and aggressive behaviors. It is said that individuals who possess this gene are more likely to commit violent and horrific crimes.
DNA determines your destiny.
It’s fascinating to think that something as simple as the way you were born could make you inherently evil. But maybe it’s not so simple. DNA is a massive part of our chemistry as human beings, but it does not determine behavioral and personality traits; it only influences them. Humans are the only creatures known to make conscious decisions, weigh options and consider the moral implications of those decisions. And this tells us exactly how to be good people. Humanity is art, but it’s an art that transcends a series of evolutionary stages. We’re in a state of constant metamorphosis, blooming into something unknown. We are never fully aware of our capabilities as humans but we’re all inclined to believe that we’re only capable of good. This is a phantasm.
Human beings are capable of as much bad as we are good. It has been proven through various accounts of wars, murders, rape, slavery, genocide, and other vile crimes committed throughout history. These crimes were carried out by human beings much like you and me. The only thing that separates us from them is the decisions that led to those moments. Most times, the decisions we make are not personalized. They create a ripple effect that advances from us to family, to society. Your political affiliations affect an entire country. Your religious beliefs affect your interactions with other people. Society is a product of all of us, and the first step to being a good person is deciding that you want to be. It’s the first step of many. Other steps involve a lot of learning, unlearning, overhauling negative biases, and most importantly, empathy.
Be Good To Yourself: This is something a lot of people underestimate. The first time I said this to someone, they looked at me like I was crazy. Because really, how is it possible to be unkind to yourself? But I see this manifest every day in the way people disregard even the tiniest bits of themselves. It’s in the way you talk down on your creative capabilities. It’s there when you consume toxic media that triggers your mind. It’s there when you deliberately remain in stagnancy and refuse to water yourself. You betray yourself every time you deliberately remain in toxic environments. Your soul speaks to you every day, and it’s up to you to just listen. Extend grace to yourself. Forgive yourself for past mistakes. Give yourself room to expand. Genuine goodness flows from the inside, and it’s easier to extend goodwill to people when kindness is something you’re actively practicing, even in your private moments. When you’re happy with yourself, it reflects on the way you interact with other people.
Be Good To Others: Immanuel Kant once wrote: “Act that you use humanity, whether in your person or the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means”.
This means that every person you interact with must never be treated only as a means to an end but as an end themselves. If you call your friend to find out how they’re doing, the call is the means and their answer is the end. If you asked how they’re doing to butter them up for a favor, then your care becomes the means and their services, the end. Similarly, if you view every interaction as a chance to receive, you become the leech everyone hates.
Most human interaction is coated with selfishness and speaking from experience, it can sometimes be difficult to take a step back and view the world away from the main character’s position. Because we tend to get so absorbed in our own lives, we sometimes treat the people around us as disposable tools to make our own lives better. Treating any human being like that is not only unethical but abhorrent.
It’s pertinent that we all cultivate thoughtfulness. You owe it to everyone to think carefully about the things you say or do before you say or do them; especially when it directly impacts other people. Regardless of intent, choose your words carefully because they carry weight. Genuinely care about others and be good to them not because of what you stand to gain but because you simply cannot be any other way.
Open Yourself Up To Learning: This is not always easy work, but it’s necessary to work. You have to be ready to put in the work needed to challenge all your unconscious biases and nasty habits. For me, finding out that my ’goodness’ only went as far as the surface was hurtful. Unlearning habits and having to swallow my pride threw me off. But they were things I had to do so other people didn’t have to deal with my toxicity. Unlearn harmful rhetoric. Be humble enough to make corrections. Listen to people when they say you’ve hurt them.
Take Accountability: You are not a machine programmed to obey a specific set of instructions. You’re human and your emotions are going to get the best of you sometimes. You’re going to mess up sometimes. You’re going to do things that hurt other people. You’re going to do things that hurt you. When this happens, holding yourself accountable and taking responsibility for your actions will always be the right thing to do. The path to being the best version of yourself isn’t linear. You’re going to fall off the wagon sometimes, but what’s important is that you climb back on. Like I said before, we’re constantly changing and learning ourselves better. Growth can sometimes leave you feeling out of depth but staying true to your developing self diminishes that. Apologize when you’re wrong. Make decisions that are not so selfish.
In conclusion, being a good person has nothing to do with religion, class, sexuality, or socially defining factors. I believe that it has everything to do with your willingness to be a good person and the decisions that will take you to that threshold. I do not believe that we were made to be perfectly good, but I do believe that we were made to make sure the good always outweighs the bad.
About the writer: Arese Sylvester is a brilliant writer, editor, and storyteller from West Africa, Nigeria. Writing has been a constant in her life as she navigated awkward teenage phases and social nuisances. She explores and tells the stories of marginalized demographics while documenting lifestyle, culture, and politics through her vast experiences. Instagram and Twitter: @omgitsarese. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Picture retrieved from Pinterest.