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Breaking Good

27 November 2020

I never watched “Breaking Bad”. Don’t judge. Did they title it that on purpose? Was what Walter doing technically ‘bad’ but that in order to survive and move onward he had to break that word and the associated stigma? This lead me to this week’s thought on breaking good.  Similar to toxic positivity in which a ‘good vibes only’ mantra resides, goodness has become synonymous with traditions and should-do’s instead of a more fitting definition and shies away from truly honest-to-goodness.

So what does good mean anyway?

To be frank, the dictionary has let us down recently with its acceptance of irregardless, so let’s ignore the standard definition and break it down apart from standard definitions, shall we?  Good, hah – see what we did there? – here we go!

Let’s start with a brief list of the many uses of ‘good’. First up, its use as an exclamatory statement i.e. Good ______:

  • Job
  • Girl/boy
  • Luck
  • Grief
  • Morning/afternoon/night
  • Enough
Then other common uses:
  • Good-bye
  • Does this feel/taste/sound good?
  • For goodness’ sake!
  • Good v. evil
  • Goodwife shortened to Goody

The last entry was intentional as it’s not in use currently. Historically, the title of a married woman associated with the early settlers known as the Pilgrims.  The quintessential ‘good’ guys of the first Thanksgiving, but were they? Our (read white) history books tell us that the Pilgrims fled England only to be afflicted with starvation, isolation, and death in the New World.  That part is mainly true, but the remainder of the story about how they figured things out and sat down to a lovely dinner with the local indigenous tribes is more than a bit off.  Left out was the fighting, kidnapping, and enslavement over the years as well as what took place in subsequent years of breaking peace deals and encroachment onto Native lands.  Now 400 years later we find ourselves in, well look at that, a very similar situation.

That deviated from the definition of ‘good’ a bit, but not entirely for it leads to this next point – who defines what is good or what isn’t?  Think about what we’ve read and learned over the years – it’s the winners who write the history books, so the viewpoints and outcomes are more than a bit skewed as to who was in fact correct or the ‘good’ guys. 

Point taken. But really now, how do we define good?

Fine, caving a bit – Merriam-Webster states ALL of this:

  • of a favorable character or tendency – good news
  • BOUNTIFUL, FERTILE – good land
  • HANDSOME, ATTRACTIVE –good looks
  • SUITABLE, FIT – good to eat
  • free from injury or disease
  • commercially sound – a good risk
  • that can be relied on – good for another year, good for a hundred dollars, always good for a laugh
  • PROFITABLE, ADVANTAGEOUS – made a very good deal
  • AGREEABLE, PLEASANT – had a good time

And the list goes on, and on, and on…  This seems then that good doesn’t really have one definition – clearly, and it takes on a very personal meaning depending upon one, the situation and two, the participant(s) involved.

That was not an answer.  What does good mean??

It’s intangible.  Its meaning changes dependent upon who’s assessing the situation, place, person, or thing.  The variation comes from one’s perspective, experience, external, and internal biases.

What I believe to be universal however, is that goodness is attainable and sustainable when it is demonstrated in a moral, kind, and respectful way.  Breaking the molds and reshaping the definition does not take away from the concept, but rather embellishes it.  Gives it a personal touch.  Lends a shine that would have otherwise been dimmed.

Good means this and so much more. So really the question is not what good means, but what does good mean to you?

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