I hate goodies. I hate goodness that preaches. Goodness that preaches undoes itself.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Certain stories snatched from daily life stick in the mind long after they have any practical relevance, because they seem to be the embodiment of a moral injunction. A friend of mine recently told me one such story.
This friend is a stand-up comedian, if not by trade, at least by dint of persistence, and he is constantly shuttling from venue to venue to hone his craft. One of these venues was run by a goodie. Now, the difference between a goodie and a good person is that the latter treats people with respect and kindness while the former makes a big show of his virtue.
This particular goodie was a straight white male who constantly advertised his progressive values. He decorated his venue with portraits of the black men killed by the police, and forbade all jokes with even a whiff of sexism.
All of this would possibly be admirable if this goodie were not constantly getting into conflicts with those around him. Like many goodies, he has a victim mentality, and blames all of these disagreements on the malevolence of his antagonists. When his venue was shut down by the fire marshal, for example, he attributed it to a conspiracy of right-wing comics.
Let me pause and remind the reader that all this is hearsay, so I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this information. I am told that during the uproar that followed the closure of his venue the goodie was publically accused of rape. The irony of a man who shrouds himself in feminism being a rapist is too palpable to pass unremarked. The goodie responded to the accusation, I am told, with a counter-accusation, saying that it was he who was raped.
Whether all or any of this information is actually true, it rings true. Throughout my life I have met many who have acted the part of a moralist and a crusader, preaching at every turn, tolerating no dissent, treating all disagreement as vile persecution. And these goodies, almost inevitably, are unpleasant to be around, even when I agree with their ideals.
There is a basic set of values—kindness, generosity, tact, respect, tolerance, and humility—that are fundamental to real goodness, that comprise the humdrum, everyday, unremarkable virtue that keeps society working. Goodies are not humble, not respectful, and not tolerant.
Goodies are nefarious because they sacrifice these basic values for supposedly higher ones—usually a political or a religious ideal. I say “nefarious” because, by failing to reach the level of everyday virtue while appearing to rise above it, they often manage to attract around themselves a little band of followers, who confirm one another in their zealotry. Thus goodieness spreads.
Now, there is, of course, nothing wrong with sticking up for your political or religious values, and preaching has its place. But remember that these ideals, whatever their appeal, whatever their justice, do not allow their adherents to forfeit the more basic virtues of everyday life.
Real virtue does not advertise itself; it is silently manifest in each phrase and action, an accompaniment of every word and deed. If a person repeatedly and insistently calls attention to their own goodness, suspect that this goodness is goodieness, and run for the hills.