The Story of Why I’m a Good Person

good_person_bEach and every one of us has a boatload of stories. There’s the story of how I won the big game, the story of how I wrecked the boss’s car, the story of that time I laughed so hard milk came out my nose, the story of how I was abducted by aliens… and so forth.

If we’re good at telling our stories, people love to hear them. My friend Jeff can tell stories like nobody’s business. I’d listen to just about any of his stories. And there are some stories that are so interesting, people like hearing them even if you don’t tell them all that well.

But there’s one story we all have that nobody wants to hear. That is the story of why I’m a good person.

I’ve certainly got one of those. You may even be able to dig out a scrap or two of it if you comb through my books and blog posts. But in my career as a writer I’ve been able to see that it’s definitely the least popular of any of the many stories I tell. So I’ve learned to keep that one mostly to myself. And when I forget to do so, someone always reminds me.

Here’s why the story is so unpopular. People who like you already think you’re a good person. So when you tell them the story of why that’s so, you’re forcing them to try to figure out why you’re telling them the story. And that is annoying. Even if they’re nice about it and end up reaffirming your story, they’re annoyed at having to do so and at having to tax themselves by trying to figure out why they have to do that. It’s better to say whatever else is bugging you and leave out the bit about why you’re a good person.

People who dislike you are unlikely to be convinced you’re a good person just because you, yourself say you are. So it’s annoying to them as well. You only end up looking like less of a good person because now you’ve added “annoying me with that story” to the list of things they already dislike about you.

Besides all that, the story isn’t true. You are not a good person. You are not a bad person either. You’re not any kind of a person. There is only what you do and what you don’t do. This is why, when you do something shitty, you can never justify or excuse it by explaining that you are a good person.

Your personality is real. Your personal history is real. Your likes and dislikes are real. But your “self” is a fiction. It’s a story created to tie all that stuff together. But it’s just a story.

Sure, maybe most of what you do is good and because of that others generally like you. Or maybe most of what you do is a pain in the ass and others generally avoid you. And sure, others also tend to believe in the fiction of self and behave as if it exists. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s only a story. Nothing more.

When you’re sitting zazen and you find yourself telling yourself the story of why I’m a good person that’s not a bad thing. That’s just the kind of thing you notice when you sit. It may be useful to resist the urge to respond to your story by saying, “That’s right!” and coming up with even more reasons why you’re good. It may also be useful not to try and analyze why you’re telling yourself this story. It doesn’t matter that much. And anyway, that can easily become yet another part of the story. Or it can become the story of “Why I’m Bad For Telling Myself the Story of Why I’m a Good Person.” There’s no real point in that.

I’ve found it more useful to sort of let the story play through. I usually don’t even watch it. I let it finish doing its thing and keep on sitting. Of course, sometimes I get caught up in it. But when that happens and I notice it, I try to leave it at that, just noticing it. And when I can’t even do that much, I just try to sit up straight till the bell rings.

That’s why I’m a good person.

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Every Monday at 8pm there’s zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. Beginners only!

Every Saturday at 9:30 there’s zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. Beginners only! (It will still happen this Saturday Nov. 7, 2015 even though I will be up at Mt Baldy)

Plenty more info is available on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles website,

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34 Responses

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  1. Andy
    Andy November 23, 2015 at 11:05 am |

    Cheeky monkey. Cheers!

  2. Kyla
    Kyla November 23, 2015 at 11:38 am |

    Sometimes I feel really ashamed of bad behaviour but I don’t usually make the leap into “I’m a bad person” any more. We’re all human and at times, reactive. I find more and more, my little emroideries can be quite amusing and sitting practice has helped me take life less seriously.

  3. Fred Jr.
    Fred Jr. November 23, 2015 at 12:31 pm |

    I think you’re a great person for letting us goofs post on your blog.

    1. Mumbles
      Mumbles November 23, 2015 at 4:03 pm |
      1. The Grand Canyon
        The Grand Canyon November 24, 2015 at 4:20 am |
  4. Dogen
    Dogen November 23, 2015 at 12:50 pm |

    A fool sees himself as another, but a wise man sees others as himself.

    1. drocloc
      drocloc November 23, 2015 at 2:42 pm |

      Helluva quote, thanks. Two Qs: is it yours? may i borrow it? Gassho

    2. Dogen
      Dogen November 23, 2015 at 2:58 pm |

      You should not be esteemed by others if you have no real inner virtue. People here in Japan esteem others on the basis of outward appearances, without knowing anything about real inner virtue; so students lacking the spirit of the Way are dragged down into bad habits and become subject to temptation.

      1. drocloc
        drocloc November 24, 2015 at 6:19 am |

        Sooo . . . no?

  5. Cygni
    Cygni November 23, 2015 at 1:03 pm |
  6. Used-rugs
    Used-rugs November 23, 2015 at 8:53 pm |

    I’m not a good person and you’re not a good person and that is why we practice, yes?

    1. The Grand Canyon
      The Grand Canyon November 24, 2015 at 4:22 am |

      I’m not OK.
      You’re not OK.
      But hey, that’s OK.

      (Obligatory crappy YouTube video.)

  7. John_eg
    John_eg November 23, 2015 at 11:27 pm |

    It can also feel awkward if other people start telling us why we’re good, we know more of the bad things that aren’t in their story.

  8. french-roast
    french-roast November 24, 2015 at 1:56 am |

    What do you mean by your personality is real? Which one? I do think that this pervasive idea that we have/are one single personality is plain wrong. We have many different personalities, and none of them can be call real.

    There is not a single truth in our stories, history has nothing at all to do with reality or truth, histories are always stories, stories that we tell ourselves and stories that we tell others. All stories are all cherry pick, none has anything to do with who we are.

    But I do tend to agree with your own story about ‘self’; a more or less functional/dysfunctional fiction which attempt at all cost to tie things together. This attempt at all cost is our permanent inner struggle, inner tension. We fight inch by inch in order to maintain this fiction at the summit of all our other stories. Failures to do so result in despair, neuroses, depression, psychosis. Its sudden collapse; complete freedom!

    1. sri_barence
      sri_barence November 26, 2015 at 9:52 am |

      I don’t know much about psychology, but my impression is that most people have a more or less consistent personality. This personality becomes evident by age 9 or so, and remains basically the same all of our lives. Obviously we mature and hopefully grow with age, but there remains a common thread throughout. People who have two or more strongly distinct “personalities” are considered to have some kind of pathological disorder. (This idea remains controversial.)

  9. Khru 2.0
    Khru 2.0 November 24, 2015 at 12:18 pm |

    “Virtue that arises from the deepest source
    is unaware of virtue,
    and is one with the Tao.

    Virtue that comes from obligation and pretension
    attempts to be virtuous
    and is not truly virtuous.

    When the Tao is lost, virtue is taught
    When virtue is lost, morality is preached.
    When morality is lost, propriety is practiced.

    Now propriety is the husk of virtue,
    and the seed of suspicion,
    and the beginning of discord.”

    1. Cygni
      Cygni November 24, 2015 at 1:33 pm |

      Arising from virtue and nonvirtue come joy and sorrow,
      A multitude of forms like painted pictures.
      From a single delusion, the many manifest;
      From grasping at the many comes a continual stream of deluded phenomena.

  10. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote November 24, 2015 at 8:37 pm |

    I’m so glad
    I’m so glad
    I’m glad, I’m glad, I’m glad

    Don’t know what to do
    I don’t know what to do
    I don’t know what to do

    Tired of weeping
    Tired of moaning
    I’m tired of groaning for you

    I’m so glad
    I’m so glad
    I’m glad, I’m glad, I’m glad

    compulsory necktie four-in-hand:

    Making sense of the facts of our lives, is that what we’re talking about? I believe in my story, yes, I do; it’s the keel beneath my hull. The trick is to be honest, beyond ease and beyond happiness.

    The fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, should you eat it, or no?

    1. french-roast
      french-roast November 25, 2015 at 1:19 am |

      The keel beneath my hull. Very well said.

      Navigating through life with a very heavy burden, the weight of our explicit and implicit stories. No doubt they are necessary, essential to some extent, but they have nothing at all to do with truth or reality, they are more or less (dys)functional illusions. No doubt they give us a sense of security and some kind of illusory confidence that we are walking on solid grounds. It is when we let go of our effort to hold on to our keel and let the boat sink, that the faith ‘mind’ awaken. A very important aspect of practice is just that; awaken the mind in such a way as it rest on nothing at all. No compass, no buoy, no keel, and no direction in our practice. When we think about our stories, we tend to see only those very superficial ones, those at the outer layers which easily come to consciousness, but we have much deeper layers which we are barely aware of, which we simply take for granted. It is those that we must uncover and see for what they really are; dust, puppets in the mind. Practice really begins when we loose sight of what practice is.

      Just kick the fruit away!

    2. The Grand Canyon
      The Grand Canyon November 25, 2015 at 4:34 am |

      Good song, better rendition than the various cover versions. Which reminds me of a joke…
      What’s the difference between a bag of cocaine and a baby?
      Eric Clapton would never let his bag of cocaine fall out of a window.

  11. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote November 24, 2015 at 8:49 pm |

    I organized my remarks regarding the notion of a “completed infinity”, if anyone is interested:

    Thanks to everybody here for inspiring me to write, and to our master of ceremonies. I should check Brad’s Facebook page, and see what he’s up to…

    1. Khru 2.0
      Khru 2.0 November 25, 2015 at 5:05 am |

      Interesting article. A haiku for your enjoyment:

      Iron flute with no holes
      “Completed infinities”
      Mark played upside-down.

  12. jason farrow
    jason farrow November 24, 2015 at 9:18 pm |

    i don’t get it. i don’t see where my mistake was.

  13. jason farrow
    jason farrow November 24, 2015 at 9:20 pm |

    what’s with the stuffed bears? i don’t get that part either.

  14. jason farrow
    jason farrow November 24, 2015 at 9:23 pm |

    what does any of this have to do with dogen?

  15. jason farrow
    jason farrow November 24, 2015 at 10:45 pm |
  16. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote November 25, 2015 at 9:49 am |

    Cold weather is coming on, here in Northern California, and that’s a fact.

    Thanks, Khru. Your haiku made me laugh.

    “The fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, should you eat it, or no?”-

    Should you act on the basis of knowledge of good and evil, or not? If you act, you’ve eaten the fruit and lost the garden, kicked out of whatever Jesus and Bodhidharma “entered” (“the kingdom” in the case of Jesus, just “then you can enter” and what is never specified, in the case of Bodhidharma). If you don’t act on the basis of such knowledge, then how can you act at all?

    Sometimes zazen gets up and walks around. People on the other side of the wall sit with me; they don’t take the posture. “Although actualized immediately, the inconceivable may not be readily apparent” (Dogen)- the senses have boundaries, but what lies beyond their boundaries is still known, somehow. The wind that reaches everywhere, locomoting the posture and the body… sometimes I’m the last to know, what the action is about.

    horses cross over?

  17. french-roast
    french-roast November 26, 2015 at 1:36 am |

    Then how can you act at all? Go and ask your cat how he manage to act.

    Sometimes I ask myself if the human ‘cortex’ has evolved as an attempt to solve dilemma of its own making. The human cortex creates dilemma which it cannot solve, and requires a bigger one, which in turns creates bigger dilemma which it still cannot solve, etc…..

  18. Fred Jr.
    Fred Jr. November 26, 2015 at 4:08 am |

    I ask myself
    attempt to solve dilemma of its own making


  19. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon November 26, 2015 at 4:55 am |
  20. Mumbles
    Mumbles November 26, 2015 at 9:39 am |

    Happy Thanksgiving Brad & Bradblog commenters! I am thankful for each and every one of you. -John

Comments are closed.