Being Good Isn’t Easy! By Suresh Shah

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It must have happened to you, as it continues to happen to me. You tell yourself when you get out of bed in the morning, ‘I’m going to be good today. I’m not going to react to any provocation. I’ll keep my cool. I’ll maintain my patience. I won’t back-bite anyone. I won’t gossip today. I’m going to behave as God wants me to.’
Sometimes, it strikes you that there simply is no other way to maintain your sanity but to be good. You know that this is what God wants. You know that this is the way to win God’s pleasure. Being good is the way, you know, if you want to succeed in the Hereafter. You know full well that if you are good, you’ll feel good, too. You know that being good to others is a means for being good to yourself as well.
On such occasions, it also strikes you how disgusted you feel with yourself after you’ve burst out at someone who you think has belittled you; how terrible you feel after you’ve snubbed someone whose done something you don’t like; how you hate yourself for gossiping about someone’s foibles! You know all this isn’t at all good for you. God doesn’t like such things. You know, too, that every such action will work against you in the Hereafter. And you also know that the feelings that such reactions generate within you—hate, anger, tension, irritation, fear and so on—only make you even more miserable than you already are. And so, you tell yourself, ‘I’m not going to lose my temper or get irritated with anyone today. I’m not going to gossip or criticize people or revel in their faults. I’ve done with all this—it’s done me no good, and has only made me miserable. I’m going to turn a new leaf!’
But it isn’t enough just to say that you want to be good. After all, and contrary to what we think, being good isn’t as easy as we think it is! We have to demonstrate the sincerity of our resolve to be good at every single moment, when, confronted with the choice of being good or bad, we consciously choose the former, even if this means having to defy the urgings of the ego.
Being good isn’t really as easy as it sounds!
That day, I had resolved to be good all day. I was tired of succumbing to nasty thoughts about others, of indulging in petty gossip, of wasting time making polite conversation, of wallowing in self-pity and agonizing over the past. And so, I decided I was going to be as good as I could that day, and even for the rest of my life!
I have to admit I was reasonably good for much of the day, or so I’d like to think. I didn’t speak very much unnecessarily. I kept myself busy in office. I tried not to indulge in idle chatter. I overlooked minor irritants. If someone wanted to gossip, I made an effort to change the topic. If someone said something silly, inane or provocative, I overlooked it. I smiled and wished people I met that day. And I felt all so very good with myself!
It had been, on all counts, a wonderful day! But that evening, as I curled into bed after a day of being reasonably good, I couldn’t get to sleep! From the room just above mine, I heard the sound of water dripping. Now, I’m a very light sleeper, and the slightest sound, even of a leaking tap, can keep me awake almost all night.
And then do you know what happened? Well, I can’t tell you everything. I certainly won’t tell you all the awful things I thought about the lady whose room the noise was coming from—such terrible things, and that, too, on a day when I had resolved to be so very good! Ugh! If you knew all that I thought about the poor thing, you’d really, really hate me!
I tossed about in my bed as my irritation rapidly mounted. The sound of the water was driving me mad! I tried to reason with myself, ‘You must not react to this provocation. If you do, you’ll be going back to your old crabby, selfish self. This is a test of the sincerity of your resolve to not to get provoked, to not let things or people irritate you. It is a test of your patience and your compassion and tolerance. Don’t worry, you’ll soon be fast asleep and the sound won’t trouble you anymore.’
But you know how cunning the ego is. You know how skillful it is in being able to invent the most alluring excuse to justify the most appalling behavior. And that’s just what my ego did that night, as it launched a full-scale attack on my conscience and insisted:
‘What nonsense is this? How dare this woman behave like this? She’s got no manners at all! No civic sense! And she is so very irritating! She’s absolutely good-for-nothing! I have to tell her off for own good. She’ll learn how to behave, and that’s good for her!’
Thinking such (and worse) thoughts, I leapt out of my bed and rushed upstairs, forgetting completely all the principles that I had resolved to observe that day—equanimity, patience, love, respect, tolerance, non-provocation and so on. I rudely knocked on the lady’s door, and when she opened it, I gave her a piece of my mind. I didn’t shout my head off, but I was caustic and curt. The poor thing was shocked, hurt and deeply apologetic, and you won’t know what sadistic joy I derived at that pathetic sight.
I went back to my room, very pleased with myself for telling the woman off. It was as if I had scored a major moral victory. The tap stopped leaking, and I drifted off to sleep.
But the next morning, I can’t tell you how horrible I felt about myself. How I regretted having lost my cool the night before! How I hated myself for being so weak, for giving up trying to be good over just a minor inconvenience! How I agonized for having insulted my neighbour and for taking malicious pleasure in putting her down! How I berated myself for being such a miserable, selfish, mean hypocrite—with all my talk about God, the Hereafter, kindness and goodness and ethics, and yet caring nothing at all for thinking terrible thoughts about my neighbour and lambasting her over such a trivial matter as a leaking tap!
Later that day, when I met my neighbour, I profusely apologized for my awful behavior. It was really wrong of me to scold her like that, I said. I pleaded with her to forgive me. She laughed it off—she had the large-heartedness to do so. That didn’t make me feel much better, though. My falling in my own estimation was the punishment I had to suffer for my despicable behavior.
Whoever said that being good was easy?

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