Doing Good Things Vs. Being A Good Person

For the past couple of years I have been renting a room in the house of this couple.  Nothing really major going on or bad about it, just the quirks of adults (there are four of us) with vastly different personalities living in a relatively small space.  Recently that’s come to a head and I’m leaving so I’ve been looking back doing an assessment of the time.  The actual owner of the house (we’ll call her Joan) has this weird personality trait that I simply thought odd in the beginning but in hindsight should have set off some red flags.

When I first moved in Joan was the same age as me.  She had recently started her own marketing and event planning business and was in her last year of getting her MBA at a marginal local college.  She was not as big as me though definitely over 300lbs. (which I initially found a relief because I’m pretty sure that I was being turned down from other places because of my size).  When we first met when I came to look at the house, she was warm and friendly.  Though she kept stressing how her friends are like family, etc.  The price was right, they didn’t seem crazy and the other “renter” didn’t seem like he would steal my stuff so I wrote a check that night and prepared to move in.

I think there’s something else you should know about Joan.  Generally it doesn’t matter but I think it speaks a little to the point I’m going to make.  Joan is engaged to Jeanette.  Jeanette is your typical Midwestern butch lesbian who was previously a tenant of Joan and they fell in love.  However, before this, Joan ONLY dated dark-skinned, very Michael Duncan-Clark type black men.  Preferably West Indian.  I would learn later that this was not just some mere “preference”.  She was THAT white woman.  The one who decided she needed her hair braided and still had the leftover packs of hair.  And because she was so down, because she “understood”, she couldn’t possibly say or do anything racist.

But back to the main point.  A few weeks after I moved in J&J came in very happy from grocery shopping.  Apparently there was an old woman in the front of them at checkout and they decided to just pay for her groceries.  A very nice thing to do . . . as they made sure everyone knew for the next week.  Over the next couple of years, I would find out that Joan was the queen of the Grand Gesture.  When it came to the type of empathy required for day to day courtesies, she was lost.

A good example of this is almost nazi-like policing of when someone did or didn’t say please or thank you do the point where she actually said to me one day, “Was thank you just not a big thing in your house because my mother was big on that?  I mean, I washed your dish in the sink and when I told you all you said was “oh, ok”.  Little snide comments like that were a common occurrence.  But if you called her on it, she would insist she was a good and compassionate person and then start listing all the stuff she’s done as proof.

When Jeanette got sick (which she did A LOT), Joan actually said that it was hard on her because she’s not really a caregiver-type person.  It was a stomach bug, not fucking cancer.  How hard is it to make rice or soup and make sure someone is comfortable?

Or the way she would want to tell you about something regarding her job but when you started talking about your life she would tune out into the TV or if I was talking to Jeanette, she would just break in to bring the focus to herself.

But I ramble.  The whole point of this post was to illustrate how people can do good things but not necessarily be good people.  I would say it’s a “fake it until you make it” type situation but I’m pretty sure that she’s not going to make it because she is not self-aware enough to understand the difference.  I’m interested in your thoughts.

One comment

  1. Your comment on my blog led me to your blog.

    I definitely agree with you about there being a big difference between doing good deeds and being a good person. I notice this especially in the US, where everyone is so focussed on “action” but not on a state of “being”. Good people are just generally good: compassionate, generous, having an abundance of empathy.

    Also, there is a huge focus on perception versus reality too. What matters is what people “perceive” you to be doing, not how much you actually do. And this is taught and emphasized in the top MBA programs and law schools. Talk faster and you are thought to be smarter; say wrong things very confidently — like a leader — and you will automatically thought to be correct.

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