If everyone can ‘be good’ by their own will, we expect everyone to rise up to this occasion, and then when someone does not, whatever contempt we feel toward that person is justified. So while the call to ‘be good’ is inclusive, it is also unclear. What does it mean to be good, how good to you have to be, and what happens when some people are better than others?
Growing up, going to concerts was a normal part of my life. At one concert, in particular, I remember the singer of one of the bands making a long speech in between songs about how he moved away from being religious. “At the end of the day,” he said nearing the end of his speech, “it doesn’t really matter what you believe, just as long as you’re a good person!” This was accompanied by flashing lights and applause.
At the time, the statement seemed innocent enough. I even found myself wanting to cheer along. But at the end of the day, is that the only thing that truly matters? To just be a “good person”?
One of the reasons the call to “just be good” might be attractive to us is because we assume everyone can do it. While expecting everyone to believe the same things is unreasonable and exclusive, expecting everyone to ‘be good’ is a bar we believe everyone can meet. But this assumption creates a very particular disposition in us. While it may give us resources to be more tolerant and inclusive, it also does something else: if everyone can ‘be good’ by their own will, we expect everyone to rise up to this occasion, and then when someone does not, whatever contempt we feel toward that person is justified.