A Few Good Men by Polly McGee

Pilot Light | A few good men

This isn’t about good men, or a shortage of good men, or another feminist rant about the intolerable state of abuse towards women (haha mini rant boom!) in fact that headline is nothing more than a poor attempt to combine 90’s popular culture and a film title that included good and men. For the win!

This is a musing on our creation of postumus narratives, and how we classify people into good and bad, nice and not, asking for it or victim. It’s innately human to work in this binary classification system, principally as we don’t operate well outside of the binary, ambiguity forces us to accept that impermanence is a thing, and that what we think we have a firm grasp of can slip through our fingers at any moment. If we dare to contemplate that reality, then our own mortality becomes very real, as does that of our loved ones, and the sense of safety we get from being surrounded by all our things becomes far more tenuous.

In Buddhism and other Eastern philosophical traditions, the central practice is to un-learn our attachment to permanence of all things (the unreal), and embrace constant change and the illusion of substance (the real). Buddhism particularly sees all objects including us as arising from dependent conditions, ie there is nothing that exists in and of itself. So a cake isn’t a cake, it’s is a product of the dependant conditions of flour, heat, moisture, etc etc. A human is dependant on molecules, atoms, genetics, calcium etc etc and none of these things: cakes and humans, exist independently of those attributes. The practice within this is to recognise that even though we have named them, and identify them as a ‘thing’ they are impermanent and are a fantasy that we collectively support to make sense of the world.

We should stop making sense this way, as it leads us to some very painful beliefs and experiences that we may approach very differently if we weren’t so attached to our names and our binaries and our permanence. But before I slide down that rabbit hole of semiotics, the purpose of this journal was to explore the idea of what is inherently good, and how we use that to other people and things. We see this often in the media, around unexpected murderers ‘we never saw this coming, he was a such a good neighbor/husband/father/teacher’.

When we put people into a binary of good or bad, we are fixing them to a place in time or an event that is static. A good man once. A mass family murderer may have indeed been a good man. But clearly evidence would suggest that he was also a bad man. I argue in all these cases that he was a hu-man, and that we are all capable of simultaneously being many things to many people. The same man that beats his wife is an awesome bloke at the office. The same woman who volunteers in the community verbally abuses her child. The same person that promotes wellbeing and spirituality bullies others online. These are all continuous states of change, and we all know that we have it in us to be angelic and psychotic if the right conditions and causes arise.

I spoke recently with a friend who remembers when she recognised she had post-natal depression, she was hearing voices in her head with some pretty negative messages and was lucky to be self-aware enough in the moment to be able to move into observer mode and know that she was entering this place of mental disturbance so common to women and flag with her partner so she could get it sorted. She watched as her continuum from good to bad shifted and thankfully could intervene.

Many women aren’t able to discern the fall, and have terrible experiences that they think make them ‘bad’ mothers, rather than human ones. We are all human AF, and most of us manage to contain our human elements within the invisible mores and norms that make us socially acceptable, most of the time, until we don’t, and then the media helps us to construct a narrative to make it an outlier that we can all use as a warning to keep us afraid and more fixed on doing good, not being us.

When things happen that we classify as bad, we all look for something and someone to blame. We should see this as a clarion call to turn inwards and really have a look at our own behaviour, how we look to make other people bad or good, how we accept certain standards for others because of our own classifications, and how we cling to the unreal in the face of the real to support the sandcastles of our own realities – oh yes, mine included. We are all everything all the time, what we can aspire to achieve is to all become nothing. No-thing. Where we release the illusion of fixed realities and look to endless becomings were we are constantly growing and changing towards a place of exquisite self- awareness, always real, always human, always experiencing our own frailties and compassionate of that of others.

When we are clear on all our potential capability and own that spectrum of self, but are pointed towards creating happiness for all sentient beings, our choices are very clearly defined. Will this thought/act/word bring happiness to self or other or will it cause suffering to self or other? If no, proceed with determination and fortitude against the mire of alligators that will cheer you on to allow your desire and attachments keep you back in the binary. No one gets raped and murdered when not harming any sentient being is their primary duty. Just sayin.

When we acknowledge individually and collectively that ‘I am that too’ in the case of all human behaviour, that we can see the heinous acts and those who cause them with devastating compassion rather that being able to ring-fence the bad people so we are the good ones, then we are closer to being able to see that most Buddhist of all ideas – that when one person remains suffering it is all of our duty to stay behind and work toward their enlightenment, and in doing so, our own.

Rob King