Doing Good From the Heart: It's Harder Than I Thought

By Maddie Inskeep

Photo by Emily Fletke

Photo by Emily Fletke

Modern western society – especially in America, and especially in New York City – makes its list of rules for being a “good person” pretty clear. Don’t use certain words. Don’t support those people. Post about these things. When taking the escalator, stand on the right, walk on the left. Use a reusable coffee cup. Shop free trade. Etcetera.

 It’s pretty simple really – just make sure you don’t inconvenience anyone, and it won’t be hard to convince people, especially yourself, that you have a clean slate. That you’re a “good person.”

 But… what about the other stuff?

What about our anger for the man who pushed past us while getting on the subway – or for the neighbors shouting at 3 a.m., or for the cab driver laying on that horn? How do we feel about unappreciative bosses or fake smiles from people at church? Even deeper, how do we deal with the rage we feel towards old romantic partners or family members that wronged us? 

BEING GOOD IS A RESPONSE

Whatever it is, we all know the pain, frustration and coping mechanisms we have in response to the brokenness we experience and interact with in New York City. We know, deep down, that the answer to “being a good person” is in our active, day-in-day-out responses to the failures, aggravations, injuries, and yes – downright evils – immediately around us.

 It took me a long time to admit to myself that following the socially “good” norms didn’t actually make me a good person, or give me a good heart. It just made me a convenient seat partner on the subway.

 You see, there has often been a discrepancy between the God-given mercy, compassion, and grace I profess to believe in, and the judgment and coldness I usually feel towards people that make my life harder than I want it to be.

 In my first few months in New York, while confronting daily inconveniences and human brokenness, I filled my heart with so much criticism and indifference that I became cynical and numb, choosing not to feel anything, rather than wrestle with my own nastiness and others’ brokenness.

 I had no idea how much damage I had been doing to myself until I realized how it was causing me to see people – not just myself, but my friends, my family, and God (who is definitely a person, albeit, a very mysterious one). My cold-heartedness in the face of adversity was inadvertently causing me to see people as reflections of myself: distant, untrusting, and secretly frustrated with everyone around them.

 Not exactly solid emotional bedrock for being a good human being.

A LIFELONG JOURNEY IN FAITH

Thank God that I’m getting better – more vulnerable, kind, and forgiving – but I realize that this will be a lifelong journey in faith. It took realizing that the human heart is meant for more for this journey to begin.

As painful as it is, I believe that we are meant to live with vulnerability, to face pain and trouble head-on, to fully experience the world in its brokenness… and yet still choose to do good, and genuinely trust that its Creator is good,

 That is the built-in superpower of the human spirit: we need not be governed by our immediate feelings and frustrations. Rather, we can choose to hope in something greater, and act boldly, buoyed by faith in a Creator whose desire for this world is a deeply good one.

 In allowing God to soften my heart and heal my numbness, I’ve learned how to let myself live in New York. I’m learning how to let myself feel annoyed, hurt and angry in the face of the chaos, but I’m also learning how to choose, as God does, to be present and to withhold judgment. As I grow, maybe He will show me more – how to be generous, patient, warm, thorough, and brave in my love for other people – and change me to be deeply, from the heart, good.


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Madeleine was born in Los Angeles and since then has lived in Beijing and London. She’s not yet sure where “home” is, but for now, she’s made one in Hell’s Kitchen, NYC. She works in the publishing industry, but most days would rather be running long distances in the Scottish Highlands. You can usually find her where books are sold.