What is it about a group of wholesome moms who rob a grocery store to keep a daughter alive, save the family home, and not lose custody of a non-binary child with fragile esteem who needs a loving nurturing accepting parent to raise her, that is just so damned compelling?
Or our friendly neighbourhood science teacher who cooks up a meth lab to pay his family’s bills because he is dying of cancer? Isn’t that a story?
Or the square box accountant who is implicated in his partner’s money laundering for THE FAMILY, who then has to best his bestie and launder like Clorox on steroids in order to save his actual family?
Are we all villainous at heart? Is there an inner criminal in all of us? What makes these shows sooooo damned good, dammit it all to hell?
Well I am going to say it’s not that. Rather, we like our breaking bad characters because they are essentially good. They are smart and loving, and they care about the things that should matter, but they are just the right percentage bad ass, and when pushed to the limit they are willing to rebel, to draw on inner bravery to overcome their oppression by the shit laws of the world. And guess who gets to hop in the getaway car with them? We do!
Thanks to their bravery and whoop ass, we get to go along for the great big eff-u. We feel empowered when they break the law, because sometimes it’s The Law, The System, The Man, The World that is the bad guy. And watching our fave characters stick it to them in ways that are clever and beguiling and typically involve some serious shenanigans is, well, very satisfying.
We feel a sense of justice.
We feel a sense of hope.
We feel free.
And we feel redeemed.
You know why? Because we aren’t one dimensional, Friend.
And because every day life faces one of us with a hum dinger of a decision.
A damned if you do damned if you don’t.
We get the catharsis of talking back to authority, or well the FBI as the case may be, without the “real life” shitty consequences. We just keep getting savvier and wilder in our actions, until the only trick left for our writers is to turn us from good breaking bad, to the leader of an organized crime syndicate which on TV is a pretty sexy twist on if life gives you lemons.
But what is a good person, anyhow? A relatable one, an imperfect but likable one?
There is this scene (spoiler alert) between the pretty mom who makes her kids sandwiches into cute animals and sexy gang boss guy (not so much my type but lots of gals like him) where she tells him “I can’t do this anymore” referring to her burgeoning life of crime, and he looks at her with a brooding fierce guy stare and says “What do you want” and she says “I want to be a good person” and he says “You’re much more interesting than that”. Very provocative.
Could it be that good is boring? Ned Flanders is not quite as loveable as Homer?
Let’s just unpack that for a moment.
Our typical idea of goodness is: Nice, kind, cares about others, and does demonstratively nice things for them. Does not rob grocery stores or cook really clean meth or wash money for people who kill people.
But as soon as we try to take the definition any further we run fast into some territory that causes me to emit a high pitched bat like sound of objection.
I, and a thousand counsellors I know will tell you that selfless isn’t healthy.
Wanting to help from a place of generosity or caring loving concern isn’t selfless.
Selfless runs along a spectrum with putting others needs first on one end and martyrdom on the other, and altruism somewhere in the middle.
It’s something we do for redemption.
There is nothing good that comes out of giving for redemption, or at a cost to our mental and emotional health.
Let’s talk about people pleasing for a moment; telling others what they want to hear in order to please them at our own expense or disingenuously in order to avoid feeling uncomfortable. No good comes from this. And healthy friends families and partners don’t want to be pleased or appeased. They want genuine sharing.
Now we have: Generally nice and cares to treat others well and not kill them but also in a way that is self honouring, so like healthy boundaries and self care.
But what if the goodness gig is rigged?
What if we can never really win at being a good?
Let’s consider for a moment that according to The World, being good to one person often means failing another, which is exactly what is going on with the moms in Good Girls. In order to be a good mom to her sick daughter Ruby steps out of being a good law abiding citizen or even a good wife.
In order to be “good” to my neighbour, I have to be a shitty mom to my dog because he wants her to stop barking, and like most pets and kids, we can’t control them without hurting them, we can only take the best most attentive measures possible. Vets and trainers, for the kids of course, and understanding guidance and love for the dog. A bark collar for him, but not for her. Okay that was offside.
Which brings me around the bend to one of my fave topics, judgment!!!
It’s not that we shouldn’t judge, because judging others makes us bad people. It’s that we CAN’T judge.
It’s not that we shouldn’t judge, it’s that we cannot.
We cannot see inside of others’ lives and perspectives at the choices they are making.
We cannot see inside of their stories.
Except on TV. And when it happens on TV, well don’t you just love them even when they have gone totally corrupt and you’re like please don’t actually kill someone even if you have good reasons, while you drop Smarties into your buttered popcorn and refill the wine. Sorry I have to go watch some Netflix now.
But honestly, sometimes it isn’t even about understanding their reasons for this thing we think they have done or not done. Sometimes as in so very often what we cannot see is completely opposite of what we think we see.
Let’s consider the nature of judgment for a minute. Judgment is the lens of fear which distorts what we see. It tells us that there has been injustice and that our safety lies in retaliation.
When we feel judged we are tempted to defend ourselves, to ourselves, our bestie, the barista at Starbucks, and to The World, and then to our judgers. But then we buy in.
Over time, we find ourselves running around making choices to avoid being judged as less than good, when none of these choices line up with what we really want, and they don’t make us good in the eyes of the world because the world is constantly throwing shade and changing the narrative.
If we’re a good parent by one book we’re a bad one by another.
If we have good priorities by one they’re bad by another.
If we’re poor we’re incompetent or weak, if we are rich we are entitled and superficial.
And on and on and on.
And if you think this can get complicated, well just add romance into the mix.
Triggers and Judgment are walking hand in hand on a sunset glazed beach right now. They are waking up in the night to make tender love, and giggling over hashbrowns and pancakes the morning after the night before.
Triggers are fears that tell us you hurt me you don’t love me you’re trying to steal my peace.
But defending ourselves, sending over a manifesto to the neighbour with documented care regimes for our well loved animal doesn’t actually satisfy the fear, it grows it. It creates a co dependency. One of the hardest bravest things I’ve ever done is to walk away from someone else’s judgment of me.
Just let it go. Like 99 Red Balloons.
Oh and I haven’t done it perfectly. It’s hard work and it takes practice. It’s not all holy roses over here just yet.
But I can’t live my life defending myself against others’ misperceptions AND actually make meaningful, healthy loving and caring choices.
So often when we think we are all about being a good person, we are really dodging judgment.
How do we break out of this without breaking bad, and how do we break this out of our relationships so that they don’t become a jail cell?
Firstly consider if you will humour me – what if the inherent goodness within us that I am always talking about doesn’t really have anything to do with being a person per se?
There is inherent goodness in us that is not established at the level of the world, it’s problems or conflicts. We cannot fail it, fail to live up to it, or lose it.
And when we stop there for a moment, when we set up camp there well all kinds of things are possible. Navigating our way through worldly decisions and even the wildlands of romantic love become easier, even joyful.
We can begin to tell the emotional truth, not some chopped up mixed up defense of our actions while we sweat blood against an imagined jury or even a self elected one of neighbours and relations.
We can say, this is my story and what I am up against. We can invite those other players in our script to join us in becoming the hero of our story. Our beloved can become our ally. How sweet is that?
And then maybe, just maybe if we’re not quite ready to trade in our cute sandwiches and PTA perfection for running the mob, we can at least handle our hearts with a little less corruption.
— Love Erin
P.S. 2021 I am bringing on the love. I’ll be featured in a podcast all about better loving, from healing your broken heart to intentional dating to creating a relationship that thrives, and I’ll be launching a sister site for all of you relationship and love enthusiasts, with all kinds of insights and offerings. Stay tuned!
P.P.S. One of the kindest things you can do for me is to share my writing. If you enjoyed today’s Monday Musing and know someone else who would please forward it to a friend.