If you’re like me, then this phrase may bring up childhood memories. These memories are of the sort where I was (according to me), going along minding my own business when all of a sudden I would have some adult sternly admonishing me.
“Be good!”, and there I’d be, wondering how, once again, I’ve been not good, and even worse, didn’t even know it.
I recall that I often had no idea why I was not good, but the adult would act as if I ‘should know better’. I used to think to myself, ‘if I knew better then I wouldn’t be doing it.’ I longed for the ability to avoid being reminding of not being good, but had no way to know how to do this.
Over time and with many repetitions of this process, I finally gave up trying to figure out this mystery and accepted it. The mystery of how I’m not good, and I don’t even know why.
My child-mind reasoned that this had to be happening because of who and what I am. What else could cause this?
I think it’s obvious now that I’m an adult what the admonishing was really about. It was about an adult training me to act in whatever ways they felt were necessary, either in attempts to guide me to develop proper ways of getting along in the world, or sometimes simply wanting me to stop needing their attention in that moment.
I understand that now, but I certainly didn’t then.
What I didn’t understand back then was my innocence. I thought ‘be good!’ meant I was bad. I thought who and what I am was enough to make me guilty, and it obviously made no difference at all that I was innocent, because I ‘should know better’.
Like most of the rest of us, growing up in a busy world meant the most attention I got was in the form of admonitions instead of praise. I heard more about how I needed to try hard to be good than I heard about how I was good exactly as I am.
These early misunderstandings set the stage for other admonitions to take root in my heart too. Admonitions from religious teachings are a great example, but there’s many more from schools, doctors, even other kids along the way. I became a magnet for this kind of thing, and I feel like this is pretty common among us.
Since we really do care about being good, and because the child’s mind hasn’t the reasoning power to know better, this is an important feature of how we’ve been highjacked in a very deep way, and at the very beginning stages of our lives. We’ve lost touch with the truth of our innocence because of it.
It’s actually amazing to me to circle so far back with my thoughts to this now. And yet, it’s presenting to me as at the foundation of a large chunk of my unconsciousness about who and what I really am. It’s hard to imagine what could be more important than this.
Looking back at all this, it’s clear to me now that I was innocent, and that I still am. I didn’t and don’t need to ‘be’ good, I’ve always been good.
Who I am is someone who cares. What I am is innocent. What I am is good.
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