Are we only good when things are bad?

 

by Meredith Berger

I was on a drive back from a beautiful small town in Virginia where my boyfriend and I had spent the weekend. It was so relaxing, driving the lush Blue Ridge Highway and stopping at overlooks to take in the mountain air. As we headed to D.C., I decided I’d read aloud some short stories. One of the ones I read, A Good Man is Hard to Find, by Flannery O’Connor, stood out to me and really forced us both to reflect.

*SPOILER* The story follows a family of six on a road trip, who are stranded on the side of the road after an accident that flips their car, and then, are all murdered by an escaped convict. For the first two thirds of the story, the character of the grandmother is described as a bit selfish and judgmental. She’s not an antagonist, but instead she represents the average person – somewhat insecure and self-serving in her words and actions. As she’s confronted by the armed convict, her demeanor changes and she begins to pray and beg for mercy. She tells him he is a good man and that he comes from a good family – things she obviously does not believe – and that he should pray with her. She continuously brings up her faith, which she hadn’t mentioned at any other point in the story, and attempts to use it as a shield against the ruthless serial killer. The criminal, in the final line of the story after brutally murdering the grandmother, says,

“She would’ve been a good woman if it [sic] had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

This line is quite famous, and rightfully so, as it really sticks with us. Are we only good when things are bad? We are sometimes selfish and can often speak carelessly at the expense of others. We judge each other constantly; saying petty or bitter things when we are hurt or annoyed – or sometimes when we’re just bored. Occasionally we attempt to limit those acts and try to be good when we catch ourselves, but how often does it take something awful to happen for us to become saints? You see it all the time – a loved one is dying, a community tragedy occurs, you make a nearly unforgivable mistake, you yourself might be dying, etc. – and suddenly we are so careful of what we say or do. We apologize profusely, we attempt to put all our transgressions behind us to support each other, or we beg for forgiveness and we promise to change. Maybe I’m being a bit harsh, but can we deny that? It takes our lowest moments to push us to be the best versions of ourselves.

After reading the story, it made me realize how often I say mean or unnecessary things in the heat of the moment, or just to fill the space. Regarding gossip and inflammatory remarks, James 3: 9-12 says,

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”

I realize how I’m not acutely aware of my “salty stream” of words and actions until I feel I’m in a position of need. This thought reminded me of a quote I once saw that said something along the lines of ‘speak only if your words are better than your silence.’

I’m not saying we should live each day as if it were a dire circumstance – quite the opposite. I want to begin seeing each day as an opportunity to fill the silence with authentic positivity and goodness, and to be more cognizant of my actions and how they affect others – instead of waiting to be good until it’s too late.

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