During a recent walk, Sally and I were sharing highlights from our day. As I was describing a conversation during a recent meeting, I found myself saying in conclusion: ”I really like him. He’s one of the good guys.” She said in response, ”I could tell by the way you described your conversation.”
Something in her response struck me. How had I described him and characterized our conversation? What made him a ”good guy?” Did I think he was a good guy because I liked him or did I like him because he was a good guy? I wonder if I would be described as a good guy?
Considering other conversations, I realized that it wasn’t the first time I had characterized a person as ”good” and that I had used the expression ”one of the good guys” on a few occasions. In this case, it encapsulated a few things: I liked him, trusted him, and could see myself working with him.
Sure, I had enjoyed the conversation but there was something more. It was an elevated interaction; we connected in a different way, and l recognized traits that I valued. He was a ”good guy” to me because I saw in him the tendency to behave in ways I see as reflecting goodness.
What is Goodness?
What then is goodness? For me, being good means demonstrating ”heroic virtue” – doing the right thing in a world where that may bring negative consequences on the doer. We all might agree that virtue is a ”good” thing, however, we might not agree on the when, where, or extent of said virtue. For purposes of this discussion, the virtues include: prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude (the four cardinal or ”hinge” virtues), then faith, hope, and charity.
Let’s be honest, everyone struggles with some or all of these from time to time. Some of us struggle more than others. We are imperfect creatures, suffer from obsession with self, and tend to behave in the moments according to convenience or desire. There truly is light and dark within each of us and we will fail from time to time.
But this post is not intended as a treatise on virtue. Perhaps we’ll explore that in a later post.
Why did I describe him as a ”good guy?” I saw him as principled, as standing for something, holding a point of view, and being willing to act accordingly. I saw him as honorable and honest – a person I found sincere and would trust. I believe he sees opportunities to do good in his work and for others, to be just in decisions, and to give of himself generously. I believe he sees himself in those ways and works to live those priorities.
Practically speaking, I see him as a man who makes and meets commitments: someone who will show up, jump in the foxhole, and run toward the fire. I also saw in him a propensity to do these right things even in the face of personal risk. In other words: he’s someone I can count on.
Yeah, the items in the list above create a tall order. To live them is demanding and, in this world, will cost us.
Compromising vs Compromised
Most of us live the virtues to some extent and in certain situations. But our lives call us to compromise. Sometimes we compromise in little ways: ”white” lies that help us avoid conflict or obstructions, small slights to the character of others so that we might fit in, allowing small rule breaking to ”keep things moving” along. We give up pieces of virtue in return for what we want or need in a given circumstance. Some call this politics.
The small compromises tend to bring us to bigger ones. We might break a promise because the situation has changed from when we made it. In the working world, we often rationalize this by saying ”it was just business.” Perhaps the ”white” lie grows to be something bigger as we fabricate a fact to convince someone to do something. Generally, we shrug this off as ”immaterial.” These bigger lies often appear in statistics, as fabricated numbers somehow seem like less of a lie.
The truth is that lowering the bar on our integrity in some small way is almost always a gateway to bigger failures of honor at a later point. In this way, we find that Hell is reached an inch at a time. Eventually, the little compromises we make, make us more and more compromised. Deception, betrayal, calumny, and injustice lie not so far away as we might think.
We all want to be good guys. And, we all want to be around good guys. We desperately want to trust and be trusted. We hunger for honesty. We want to be around people we can count on, who do what they say they’re going to do, and who show up when we need them. We also want to be that person. We want to be valued as much as we value. We want to be inspired, and in-turn, inspire. We want to believe in goodness. We want to believe in something more and in someone willing to carry the weight of goodness.
We want to be around that person. We want to be that person. Sometimes we are.
The Path of Resistance
The right path is rarely the easiest one. We pray that it might be easier this time. We hope we won’t have to struggle or choose between difficult options. We think, ”perhaps this shortcut or compromise will be different.” After all, we’re due for a break, right?
We know better. The right choice almost always requires a price. Integrity frequently demands sacrifice. The high price might be suffering, loss, fear, doubt, isolation, or rejection. The principled stand may require heroic virtue. Goodness may demand a longer, more difficult, path. We know this, and that is what makes it really, really, tough to be a ”good guy.” The right thing is rarely the easy thing.
Sometimes we have to delay our hopes or dreams. Sometimes the longer path is the right path. Sometimes doing the right thing means we sacrifice the something we want today for something better tomorrow. Perhaps that ”better” something isn’t the one we want.
One of the Good Guys
We’ll never know who the good guys are…until we do. My read on the ”good guy” above may not be accurate. I may be proven wrong. But we all sense them when we encounter them. They care enough to be honest. They have the courage to tell us what we need to hear, even if we don’t want to hear it. They protect relationships, even when it costs them. They acknowledge and own their mistakes. They show up when we need them.
No, good guys are not perfect. Even the greatest saints recognized their propensity to sin. But we are all called to be good guys. We should aspire to be the one that others can count on. We need to avoid the small compromises that lead us to bigger failures. Our word needs to mean something – a promise is a promise. We should protect the reputations of others and honor our relationships by showing up when we’re needed. We need to remember that our integrity is priceless, quickly lost, and slow to recover.
Most of all, we need to remember that honor, and the way of goodness is a difficult path, that we will falter, and that it is absolutely worth our best effort.
Today, go out and be one of the good guys.