I am a good person. This realisation didn’t dawn on me quickly, it was a lengthier process than that, slow and drawn-out. I suppose I always knew. Though it took longer to come to the surface, and only when I had more to compare with did I get clarity. I was probably the best person I knew. I don’t mean that to sound vain or conceited. I was not the best at anything, not particularly talented, capable, or accomplished. I was just a wholesome, honest person who had a strong moral compass and a firm grasp on right and wrong.
My mother talks of an angel, a darling child who caused her no worry. Sturdy report cards read of praise and admiration. My school years were spent with quiet studious friends who shared similar interests and harmless fun, and later bookish boyfriends whose parents approved of me.
The extent of my benevolence became particularly clear every year in January. Friends and colleagues began to talk of resolutions, crude promises to themselves to improve their person to impress others.
I drink eight glasses of water a day and sleep for eight hours. I eat a healthy balanced diet underpinned by an understanding of nutrition and a natural flexibility to allow treats in moderation. I give to charity. I know my neighbours and support those less fortunate in my community. I read. I walk every day and exercise three times weekly. I separate my waste in order to recycle. I greet foreign colleagues in their home language. I avoid mass produced clothing from factories employing children, and shop in small, local businesses for Fairtrade items. Even though I am modest and humble, I struggled to see anywhere to advance.
When I made the conclusion that I was good, I began to explore where it originated from. Was I born good or was I brought up to be well-behaved? Was it something naturally rooted inside of me or did it sit on me externally, like make-up on my skin? And most interestingly, was I good organically or did I force it upon myself out of fear and the human desire for conformity?
I don’t know why it irked me. It was like a rash that started mildly irritating around my wrists. I ignored it until I discovered it had shrouded my whole body. My path felt pre-determined, and I wanted to prove to myself that that wasn’t the case.
I read an article once about Random Acts of Kindness. People dropping pennies for children to find, helping strangers carry their groceries and paying for the coffee of a queueing customer they had never met. I didn’t understand the phenomenon and it seemed entirely pointless to me. If the act of kindness was random then perhaps it wasn’t necessary and was wasted. It was fake and forced. But upon settling, the idea began to form some sense. It was like performing an emergency stop during a driving lesson; fruitless and wildly out of context but a necessary tool to achieve the full licence. To achieve goodness.
I pondered this for a while since I am not rash.
Then it was New Years’ Eve again and I gifted an expensive bottle of champagne to my hosts and drank only one small glass. The bells rang and I exchanged a polite kiss only with the person with whom I had arrived. I allowed thoughts of yearly promises to file into my head in an orderly manner. Maybe it was the bubbles, but I felt fiery and in need of a change of direction. And so, it was decided, one whole year of Random Acts of Naughtiness. My quest to be a little less good.
It didn’t come naturally so I started small. I put yoghurts into the fridge still encased by their cardboard packaging and put new tins to the front of the cupboard. I allowed crumbs to end up in the butter and didn’t rinse bottles before putting them in the recycling. I’m not sure what I was expecting but the feelings I found weren’t pleasant ones or those of freedom from a life chained by my observation of the rules. I would go to bed every evening with a faint itch behind my eyelids and the inability to lie still.
By the end of February, I could sleep easily, despite knowing my electricity bill was overdue and that I had bought a book from a tax-avoiding supermarket chain. I wrote a letter to my elderly aunt and didn’t include the address of the sender. Mail arrived for the previous owner and I opened it, devouring the information of their high-interest loan and eye-watering monthly payment schedule. I had expected to feel liberated, but I didn’t.
While shopping, I parked in a parent and child space and watched desperate mothers, with cars like tanks, squeeze open doors in cramped spaces. I sat down to enjoy a library book and a pastry, speckling the pages with greasy finger marks. I flung glass bottles into general refuse to save making the journey to a bottle bank.
As the weather heated, so too did my taste for disobedience. Organic situations arose and I found these more fulfilling. A button burst from a blouse in a fitting room was hidden and denied, and a car innocently scraped in a carpark was abandoned without a note. Doing the right thing in these situations would have been uncomfortable and the alternative felt so much better.
Midway through the year and I had found my stride; refusing to talk to charity workers with clipboards trying to earn a crust; purchasing caged eggs rather than free-range; and eating loose grapes before paying. On reflection, these things were enough, but it was addictive – and I was headed on a downward spiral.
I began to lose my way. I left some items un-scanned on self-service tills and let a man I had no interest in buy me a drink. I took extended lunch breaks when no one was looking. I jumped a queue and swore at the woman who challenged me. I urinated in a swimming pool.
When children waded through fallen leaves to display their costumes at my door, I left a note telling them what I thought of their incessant glorified begging.
Friends and colleagues questioned me, or worse, avoided me. It had worked. I had changed.
New Year’s Eve once again. Alone in front of my television, which didn’t have a paid licence, I vowed to return to good. It hadn’t been habit. It had been the easy route to a happier life.