One of my daughters wrote something I both admired and had a concern about (it was in response to one of her friends who plaintively asked on social media: ‘Where are the good people?’). I’ll paste the part that concerned me here:
“I’m here. Helping people is what I love to do, I’ll never tire of it because there is always someone out there who deserves a helping hand. I’ve been raised by two loving and inspirational parents who have taught me to do the best I can with the hand I have been dealt. I am strong because of my family and loved ones, and I’ll use my strength to help those I can, in any way I possibly can, because I have faith in people.”
I love she is such a good-hearted person. But as her father and someone who has been far down the rough dirt road of life…
…what she wrote troubled me. So, I wrote this for her (and my other three daughters):
There are countless good people in the world. Many of them surround me. And those people—the kind you want to associate with—know there are other good people out there.
It’s those that do not believe good exists you have to be wary of, and you absolutely have to be cautious with those you think might be good but seem to always need something… are always looking for someone to help them or to care for or about them. You will want to comfort these people… be a friend or lover to them… be strong for them. But don’t rush to do that out of reflex because you are so kind and good.
NEVER blindly believe a person is good.
Listen to them.
See how they act when it seems no one is watching them.
See how they treat others and see how they feel about themselves (by their actions and words).
They have to prove to you they are good.
If what you see is negative… if their view of themselves is destructive, self-defeating, or they are continually running down other people and lamenting how their life sucks. Or conversely, they are over the top, overly enthusiastic about things (anything) when they plainly don’t have a basis to be that enthused and never realize their thinking is distorted or delusional, they have a skewed perception of reality. Be cautious. Keep them at arm’s length until they merit letting them into your heart and life. And if they don’t improve, become considerate (of themselves and others), self-aware and rational, and continue with the way they are. Keep them at a distance and let them deal with their own life. You can be friendly with them but don’t owe them any part of yours. They have to earn the right to your highest level of friendship or love.
Making the terrible mistake to take them in, trying to help them, accept or tolerate them, and keep a relationship with them, opens you up to their bitterness and bile. And they will eat away at your time and if it continues and you let it… their negativity or irrationality will affect your life. They can drag you down. Don’t let it happen. Only accept friends and relationships on your terms.
The best way you can help people is by having confidence in who you are and in what you plan for your life (that does not mean being selfish or self-centered); be an independent thinker, and above the neediness, negativity, and irrationality I pointed out for you. That’s a strength to protect yourself, so you’re someone who makes our world a better place to live. And our world needs them. It requires you to be strong.
Some reader comments when I shared this:
“So much this! I’m a giver by nature, and it took me a long time to realize that I needed to believe in what people do and not what they say and that some people are emotional vampires. I’m still kind, but I’m no longer a doormat.” –Michelle C.
“This is the first essay I read on Figment.com, aside from the typical story variety, and to be completely honest, you have a really amazing talent for weaving inspiration with your words. I’m sure your daughters appreciate the beautiful message you put together for them. I really enjoyed the rawness in your tone throughout this essay. It was heartfelt and captured the message with a polished simplicity that is very rare in writers today. I really appreciated that aspect of your writing. The only critique I have is that I have nothing negative to critique! And I guess that’s a good thing! Overall, bravo! I honestly enjoyed this, and I hope to read more of your writings and stories.” –Miss J.
“I can’t tell you how many mistakes I made by believing that everybody has something good in them. Because of that, I was hurt and disappointed many times. I wish that I read this 20 and more years ago.” –Irena Udovičić
“Truth!” –Sherry Thompson
“This is so perfect!” –Jo Ann Boomer
“Brilliant piece of writing and compassion! Exceptional work, I have to share it!” –Rebecca Harden-Heick
“Awesome advice, Dennis Lowery. I think it is not what you say but how you say it. You hit two birds with one stone.” –P. A
“Wise words. I wish someone had warned the younger version of myself. Now, I can warn my children as you have yours. Some lessons don’t require hands-on experience.!” –Katye Faulkner
“Sound advice to give … especially to our younger generation. Oftentimes, it is a struggle but not without a fight to show how truly good can overcome. Thx for sharing your personal thoughts and journey of you and your daughter!” –Xiomara Johnson
“Thanks! I will re-share with those I love!” –Reggie Ron
“Very good advice…” –Carolyn Mandache
“Very, very good…” –Dharam Pal
“Spot on as always…” –Sarah Odendahl
“Perfect!” –Mica Johnston
“I really need to take this to heart. I tend to blindly believe everyone is good, and I’ve been burned a good few times because of it. I enjoyed reading this. It is wise.” –NJ
“You write very well. I can tell your message is heartfelt and sincere (as I would hope, considering your intended audience), and I applaud you for letting that show through your writing.” –SC
“Great advice and beautifully written.” -Marguerita M
“I love what you shared here. Beautiful words and how true.” -Mylah N
“Good-hearted people need to read this.” -Rebecca W
“How moving… and what pearls of wisdom in this…” -Linda A.
“I will share this with many that need that understanding. Well written… this is a life lesson.” -Janice Delaney