Years ago, while in the final moments with a life coaching client, I said something I’d never said to anyone: “You are goodness.” I was surprised at the spontaneous words that poured from my mouth. It was as though something in the far reaches of my soul knew exactly the unique acknowledgement my client needed to hear. For, at that moment, this erudite man of determined reserve leaned forward and began to sob. How dearly he needed to be seen. How dearly had he longed to touch his forgotten goodness.
There is goodness in each one of us. Goodness is our true nature. Yet, for many, if not most, we have forgotten it. Inculcated with false ideas of what it means to be a good, proper, moral, successful person, we are taught to abandon this abundantly loving sense of self, this goodness deemed unworthy, not good enough as is.
Children are taught with regularity, directly and indirectly, that what they do is not good enough. In the process they learn that their indwelling good nature is not good enough, and that it must be concealed. There is something more that this child should be other than her innate goodness. When detoured from their native impulses to express wildly, dream freely, move fluidly, goodness is made wrong. When taught that heart-felt drawings deserve an F, that meandrous walks should be straightened and fidgeting hands stilled, that dreams to become a princess should be made realistic, —when wild and imaginative instincts are repeatedly suppressed and children “readied” beyond their years— they are made a slave to who they are not, for good is not good enough.
Their will/interests expressed naturally and exuberantly from the wellspring of goodness in their souls is thwarted against the betterment of their development. The overflow of joy, creativity, beauty and wonder each child oozes that is their goodness is made bad. It is shamed, and shame hides.
Not good enough is a pervasive belief in the West, one that makes us sick with mental and physical illness. As the child pushes the light of her goodness into the dark, the darkness begins to consume her. Twistedly, the child grows believing that what feels wrong and shameful inside is right, for that is what has been shown to her. Her identity colludes with deep pain, which engenders insidious self-deceit. For instance, she may grow to believe that one loves by verbally or physically attacking another, not by nestling into the vulnerability of goodness. This would make perverse sense given she continues to attack (and hide) the goodness within—she perpetuates the belief that her inherent goodness must be shamed and made wrong. As she grows up, this inner split manifests in how she unconsciously sabotages relationships by disregarding and shaming the goodness in others, including children.
How much darkness shrouds and distorts one’s goodness depends on the child. Some children grow remaining in touch with their goodness despite their adversity. Their center remains in tact, available for them to feel. But some cannot withstand the persistent force of the messages they receive that their goodness is so bad, so utterly wrong, sadly causing them to succumb to darkness.
Despite the severity of my childhood experiences, somehow I held on. I was insecure, full of doubts, uncertain about who I was and where I was going; I was aggressive sometimes, pushy, and very hard on myself. But I always remember feeling something deep within, a goodness that followed me and would not let me fall completely off the edge. I hung on, sometimes by only a thread.
On the other side of the spectrum I’m sure you know people, as I do, who at one point fell so deep into darkness that it seems only a few sparks of goodness can be felt most days, if any. These desperate ones often live their bleakness with depression, bulimia, obsessive compulsive disorder, rage and other forms of destructive mental illnesses/addictions, all expressions of goodness denied, shamed, made to feel unsafe and unworthy.
Respected author, physician and psychologist, Dr. Gabor Mate, as well as Dr. Daniel Sumrok, Director of the Center for Addiction Sciences at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Medicine, both attribute addiction to not having our attachment needs met as children, or to what Sumrok calls ACEs—Adverse Childhood Experiences. With our systems dysregulated from emotional neglect, we “attach” to drugs, alcohol, sex, technology, work, etc, as a means of filling the void of goodness—goodness that is meant to be nurtured by at least one primary caregiver, a secure attachment figure.
It is the secure attachment within to our innate goodness (that caregivers are meant to preserve) that feeds us, makes us feel alive, gives us a sense of direction, a sense of inner rightness, the capacity to form healthy and happy relationships. Without feeling this wellspring of life-force energy we must find other means of getting what naturally flows through us as children. Drugs, alcohol, sex, technology, work, all become pseudo, substitute resources for the only resource that can ever give us our sense of self.
A person believing he is not good enough can never feel full-filled. They must always find the next thing to attach to, the next thing to make them feel good enough (which, again, is the basis for addiction); or they may withdraw, become unmotivated, believing that they are not good enough to live a good life. For those kids in ghettos / slums whose homes are ripe with drugs and physical abuse, it may mean “attaching” to a gang for belonging, where they continuously prove their worth. For those pressured to achieve in school it may mean compulsively “attaching” to their intellect and higher and higher academic ambitions. For those with parents lacking the capacity to form secure, emotional attachments, it may mean “attaching” to avoidant relational patterns; to not believing any person could love the goodness they were taught to shame and hide.
In each case there is a sacrifice—each person must do or become—attach to—something in order to overcome the pain of having their goodness denied or violated. Each must loose or detach from themselves to become what is needed or expected. Each must deny the natural felt attachment to what they are taught has no place in the world. It’s the strong that survive, that make it, not the good.
The goodness each of us bears and most naturally are is what the world hungers for more than ever. And so the question must be revisited: is how you teach and parent supportive of nurturing the goodness indigenous to the soul? How much of your rules, expectations and procedures—your need to correct, assess, compare, rank, punish and push—, directly or indirectly, cause children to shame and shut out their goodness? How many ways might you, in your well-intended attempts to make children good and live good lives, inadvertently cause them to believe they are not good enough?
Sometimes we forget how sensitive children are, how naturally open they are to the goodness of their soul, and the soul of others. In so many ways we disregard their profoundly pure and deeply innocent essence. We make getting it “right” and “getting there” far more important than expressing goodness, the goodness that can only be found in the here and now of our hearts, not in some distant place and time, not through any accomplishments, through anything we attain.
The Dalai Lama, a man steeped in goodness and childlike spirit, reminds us that, “The planet does not need more successful people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.” This is possible so long as nurturing the goodness indigenous to the soul is made primary in how we raise and educate children. For it is goodness, first and foremost, above intellect, above reason and rationale, that inspires the heart and compels kind acts. And far exceeding any earthly accomplishments, it is feeling and expressing our goodness that we most long for. Nothing else can replace it. Nothing, other than our goodness, can ever be good enough.
But to nurture and make primary the goodness in others we must begin by re-membering our own, tending to it with a level of urgency, bringing it to life again. Our goodness is what inspires the goodness in others. Our light is what lights the fading light of goodness in the dark corners of the world. Indeed, there is no more pressing matter than this right now.
“Darkness can’t drive out darkness, only light can do this. Hate can’t drive out hate, only love can do this.” ~ Martin Luther King
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Check out Vince’s book: Let the Fire Burn ~ Nurturing the Creative Spirit of Children, A Children’s Book for Adults