In Search of the Good in Your Fellow Man or Woman

Ever say the phrase, “I try to see the good in other people?” I hear it all the time from the people that reach out to me, particularly from people who are in abusive situations. It’s a romanticized sentiment that is not really applicable in the real world. Not all people are good. Some people only have a sliver of good in an ocean of bad. Others are a majority good but have a sliver of bad that is so negative that it can’t be overlooked. There are others simply project being good to the world and do awful things behind closed doors. And there are plenty of people who are just entirely apathetic to it all.

The people that announce “I try to see the good in other people” are essentially announcing to the world that they are an easy target. In my experience, these individuals will cling to the fragments of good that they see in another person, like an abusive partner, to further convince themselves that this person that they love is a good person and thus deserving of their love. And it’s not limited to romance. It’s parents, siblings, children, or really any interpersonal dynamic.

They hold onto this idea that if they are good, loving, and compassionate to this person, that the person will notice it, respect it, and return love. I don’t believe respect and love work that way. There are different types and levels of both. The respect you have for yourself is different from the respect you have for an enemy is different from the respect you have for a loved one. And love is the same way. There are different levels, types, and strengths of love.

I never look for the good in anyone. I look for their humanity and what makes them who they are. In doing so, it doesn’t really surprise me when someone does something good or bad. There seems to be a common belief that good and bad are absolutes; but I’ve known quite a few people who have done bad things because they felt they had no other choice. Those decisions can be driven by circumstances like mental illness or environment. Actions that are good can certainly have bad elements to them and vice versa.

As someone who is High-Functioning Autistic and tends to see things in black and white, this was a challenging thing to identify and accept. My brain just doesn’t do shades of gray very well. But that’s life, isn’t it? It’s all just different shades of gray. The color of gray you interpret a situation as is dictated by your emotions, perception, and life experiences. What’s good and bad to me may not necessarily be good or bad to you. That’s totally fine.

Instead of good or bad, it’s more helpful to look at the destructiveness, motivation, and that person’s response to their actions. We, the mentally ill, can do some pretty awful things to ourselves and other people while we are unwell. I understand that because I’ve lived that life. As a result, I’ve been able to forgive some pretty serious unwell actions out of others because I could see they were trying their hardest to rectify the situation and change it.

But then you have the people who simply do not care how their actions affect you and your life. They use kindness and compassion as leverage and a weapon against the people that care about them. Well, I see no reason to be a victim to those people. If they can’t understand or don’t care how damaging their actions are, then why should anyone suffer along with them?

Maybe they will see the error of their ways in the future or maybe they won’t. Either way, will you still be healthy and well when that time comes? Or will the pain, chaos, and misery destroy you in the process? Compassion and understanding are limited resources and will dry up sooner or later. I’ve watched that destruction happen numerous times. You have to be the one that ensures it doesn’t happen to you. No one else can do it for you.


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5 Responses to In Search of the Good in Your Fellow Man or Woman

  1. Lana says:

    Couldn’t have said it better, Dennis, thank you. Although, in my own head, I can’t help reserving one little (permanent) spot for believing that people CAN heal themselves even when they are very far down the line i.e. not caring about the consequences of their actions. (Even if it’s just for my own sanity that I do that.) I have learned (am learning) to steer clear of the ‘kill zone’ to protect myself without giving up on the little optimist in my head that says, “You can do it. Not at the cost of me, but you can”, and leave it at that. Whew it’s a fine line to walk. Thank you for your dedicated commitment, Dennis.

    • Dennis says:

      I don’t want to give the wrong impression. I believe that anyone can change if they are willing to dedicate the work and effort. I, however, do not take words at face value. A person wants to change? Great. Show me, don’t tell me. Words are easy. Don’t let the optimist die, but do maintain healthy skepticism.

      And you’re welcome!

  2. samantha says:

    “But then you have the people who simply do not care how their actions affect you and your life. They use kindness and compassion as leverage and a weapon against the people that care about them. Well, I see no reason to be a victim to those people. If they can’t understand or don’t care how damaging their actions are, then why should anyone suffer along with them?”

    This really resonates with me. While I don’t try to see the good in everyone, I do have what seems to be endless patience and acceptance of abuse from people with mental illness. I have a mentally ill partner (off and on again) and a mentally ill best friend. I often tell myself, “he doesn’t mean to act that or she will understand tomorrow that that was unacceptable.” However, neither person takes responsibility for their hurtful actions and my patience/acceptance seem to be the glue that keeps the relationship going.
    Mentally ill doesn’t mean bad, but it doesn’t mean good either. I think I’ve had a hard time understanding that just because neither person has intentionally hurt me, it doesn’t make it acceptable. We determine that in the aftermath right? In both cases I have gotten apologies but only after agonizing effort and when the relationships were in great distress.

    It’s a hard balance to attain, compassion and boundaries and I’m never sure if I’m doing the right thing or not. It’d be nice to have more experience with people who have mental illness and work at it. I feel as if my grab back of understanding and tools is limited but this blog is helpful and I visit it often to get grounded.

    • Dennis says:

      Hello, Samantha. Might I suggest you speak to a therapist about your patience and willingness to put up with abuse? A significant portion of the people who end up reaching out to me who express similar sentiments often have things going on with themselves that need resolved or need to develop better boundaries. It’s one thing to be forgiving if the person is willing to own their actions and at least attempt to repair the damage, it’s an entirely other for them to expect or ask your forgiveness and then do nothing to help support or prop you up in the process. Don’t just dump your compassion and emotion into people that don’t appreciate it, otherwise you will end up bitter and angry.

      Intentional or not, it doesn’t make it acceptable.

      If you find your tools and judgment lacking, I would very much encourage you to have a few sessions with a therapist, look into local support groups, or programs that aim to help educate supporters. I know in the US, various charities and organizations run different kinds of workshops that are often free which can help a great deal.

  3. samantha says:

    I think you’re right. Thank you for the suggestion.

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