When Being Good Doesn’t Do Any Good

For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I want you to be wise in what is good, and guileless in what is evil. (Romans 16: 19)


We all remember the goody-two-shoes student in grade school: always coming to school dressed prim-and-proper, never a hair out of place, completing all assignments on time, never getting in trouble, fulfilling every hope a teacher ever had for a student, threatening to fulfill every hope your parent ever had for you!


And then came the crisis: a fire alarm goes off, a student gets hospitalized, there’s a fight in the hallway, the teacher their temper, or a student everyone knows gets bullied.  And little goody-two-shoes freezes up.  They don’t know what to do.  There’s no grade for how to respond to a teacher who just flew off the handle, or a shooter in the hallway, or a student in ICU.  And so they stand aside and become observers of heroes in action.  They are the star student of the class – maybe even the star child at home –  but a tragic moment renders them morally debunked.


Rather than judge our childhood friends, we can use this common experience as a metaphor for adult life, namely, that keeping one’s nose clean seldom demonstrates genuine character.


This fact was brought home once more in my life through the PTSA.  I volunteered last Spring to be the PTSA president at Watkins Mill High School because there was no one filling that office at the time.  I talked with administrators, rallied the parents I knew, put out the announcements for meetings, updated the by-laws, and even ran a fundraiser.  Everyone seemed happy; I was getting lots of accolades and starting to feel really good about myself.  But after a few months and a little inquiry I discovered that 60% of the families represented by the student body at Watkins Mill were Latinx immigrants.  Do you know how many Latin parents we had participating in the PTSA?  You guessed it: zero!  Meaning over half of the students’ families were not being impacted at all by what we did and probably wouldn’t understand our business anyway – we spoke only English!

I was a ‘good’ PTSA president alright, but a lot of good that was doing!


This Fall, I stayed on as President and by the grace of God and lots of support from staff, have found a Latin parent who was willing to be a Vice President and has already begun to show us how difficult it is for many of our immigrant families to access resources at the school.  It’s a baby step but it feels like it might actually lead to some benefit to a much broader cross-section of the Watkins Mill community.  Oh, and we’ve started holding our meetings in Spanish and English.


In his sermon on the mount, Jesus says, “if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?”, meaning, it is good to love those who love you back but it doesn’t represent any real movement beyond one’s own self-interests.  Only when we love those who don’t love back do we show true charity.


Be good.  But more importantly, do good.

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