Are we Good People?

An editorial from The Wall Street Journal some years ago still comes to mind as I occasionally watch the news. The writer was describing host Larry King’s unsettling interview of a father whose wife drowned each of their five children. Peering restlessly at the television before him, the writer believed he saw not only a disturbing interview, but a rare glimpse into the culture at large. As the father spoke of his unwavering support for his wife on national television, the mother who committed the crimes sat in a courtroom thousands of miles away receiving her sentence for the murders of their five children at that very moment. When asked how he thought his wife would do in prison, he replied that she’d do just fine, adding, “She’s a good woman.”

But the writer’s angst went deeper than his discomfort over the descriptor of the mother as good, a term to which many predictably objected the following day. He noted, rather, his discomfort over the fact that the interview itself was conducted with the same work principle of any another day in the life of modern television reporting: “Interview anyone, ask anything.” To him, that the father was even there, that Larry asked, and that we looked on, bordered a sick voyeurism. 

How could we call any of it good?

 He concluded powerfully, “There are moments when one wants to go out to the street, stare up at the stars in the dark sky and admit, I don’t get it anymore… People keep looking for reasons inside this case. I keep wondering what’s happening to all the rest of us, soaking up these recurring, weird events from our living rooms.”(1)

The writer makes an observation many of us are afraid to make when it comes to delving out goodness around us: Is there not something unsettling about our misuse of the definition of good? Indeed, what does it mean to be good? Who decides if a person is actually good? The courts? A television audience? Larry King? And when do those of us watching move from sincere concern to shameless curiosity?

Is there an inherent determiner for naming something good? Can it really arise from no where? And if we use it broadly enough will we get to the point when the word itself is void of meaning? Perhaps we already have.

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