Scandals are full of them. Gossip tries to root them out. There are so many stories of good people going bad it is almost a stereotype. It’s as old as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, if not older. Even so, it can still be a shocker to someone when a person of honor suddenly falls into some trap of vice. Maybe even more so if that someone is one’s self.
So, what is it that makes people who try to good things be so bad? This is the question that life coach Debbie Ford explores in her book, “Why Good People Do Bad Things”. A student of the shadow world, Ford delves into this territory again to discover what it is about a person’s makeup that would compel them into a dark world of sin when they are striving to live a better life.
Unlike a lot of self-help experts who coach you to get rid of your dark side, Ford is a big proponent of blending it with you good side. Her philosophy, which she does nothing to counter here, is that a person really needs both the dark and the light to be a complete person. Which is probably one reason why it is so hard to counter the dark: there are times that it might be needed. Think of getting angry when being attacked in a dark alley, or becoming competitive to overcome a disability. Survival of the fittest requires some level of the dark side for a person to survive at all.
The problem becomes, of course, if the dark side gets too out of hand. This isn’t too hard to imagine. Almost everyone knew that kid in school that always got in trouble and never cleaned his act up. Some people just don’t learn, and never pick themselves up. Unfortunate, but these things happen it seems, it is easy to rationalize about people such as this.
The one that is more disturbing to most when it is the person most likely to succeed, the one voted with the nicest smile, or the one who was voted best listener who winds up on skid row. What happened? The fear becomes: if it can happen to them, maybe it could happen to me. Who wants to think that? So it becomes easier to say, well, maybe that person was a hypocrite and lying all along. It becomes easy to say, I won’t be like that person because I am really a good person. It seems unthinkable to say, there for the grace of God go I and really mean it.
This denial and reluctance to admit the dark corners that lurk in our minds is the problem, argues Ford. This is the kind of thinking that compels good people to go bad. What is in the darkness, she claims, remains there.
Unlike “The Dark Side of the Light Chasers”, this book is not a self-help workbook. It mostly covers the psychological process where people start suppressing themselves in order to be better people. Her argument is that this will ironically lead to worse chaos than if people held their ego problems to the light. It is as though, she says, a person holds a beach ball under the water thinking it will make it disappear. Of course it doesn’t, and neither does the dark side just by suppressing it.
One of the biggest strengths of this book is her discussion of why the dark side is needed at all. After all, if it causes so much problems, why try to make any peace with it? Banish it, once and for all. What would be a sign of it being incorporated in anything but an emergency? She explains why the balance between ego and the spirit, the light and dark is essential. One can make peace with the dark side, incorporate it, and still live a full, rich spiritual life.
Ultimately, Ford’s aim is a person to make peace with the dark side so that he or she less likely to abuse themselves or other people. Much evil has been rationalized and perpetrated by people who have not recognized the dark side in themselves, instead rationalizing they are good people doing the right thing. If people do recognize that the entire universe of possibilities is within their capabilities, as she says, and accept that, perhaps people can make peace with themselves and the world around them. You can choose blessings, or you can choose curses: this book tells us that you are capable of either, if you recognize that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are in each of us. If this is your aim in your spiritual journey, or you are interested in seeing how the shadow side can be your friend, Ford’s book is a good textbook for you to take along the way.