A visit from the nice people who call themselves Jehovah’s witnesses is always welcome. They’re always good for a chat, and there’s something about the intensity of the commitment to what must be a pretty unrewarding task that I quite admire.
When I had some at the door yesterday, we had the usual good chat about beliefs, (they think I’m a heathen) and doctrine (I’m a bit worried about the Watchtower) and they wanted to play the usual game of proof text ping pong to prove that they are right, about everything.
In fact JW’s are a lot like standard evangelical Christians, except with a bit more ferocity, and two thirds less Trinity. These guys were keen that I agree with them that ‘wicked people’ such as ‘serial rapists’ should be subject to God’s wrathful destruction. I managed to swerve that particular debate, and was trying to build some bridges of friendship, when they hit on a bit of a nerve.
‘What do you think of all these do-gooders then?’
‘These do-gooders who go around talking about human rights, and letting people out of jail…’
‘Let me just stop you there, since when did we use ‘do-gooders’ as a perjorative phrase? I mean, since when was ‘doing good’ something to complain about?’
‘Well, I’m not talking about doing good, I’m talking about do-gooders…’
Unfortunately for the two bewildered door knockers in front of me, and for me, I launched into a tirade of complaint about the idea that we should use ‘do-gooders’ as an insulting term.
I was eventually saved from myself by a graceful apology by one of my visitors, but not until after he’d tried to excuse himself by saying that the phrase was a lot like the word ‘gay’.
‘You can’t call yourself ‘gay’ any more without it meaning homosexual’ he complained. ‘Well do-gooders is the same…’
Obviously though it’s not the same, as gay people sometimes choose to call themselves gay, whereas I’m yet to find a human rights advocate with ‘do-gooder’ on his or her business card. Rather it’s those who complain about ‘human rights’ and similar who invented and continue to invoke the dreaded ‘do-gooders’ terminology. But its crass – we shouldn’t be using this kind of phrase to complain about people who busy themselves trying to do good, even if they are misguided, they are at least well intentioned. I suspect it comes from an underlying libertarianism, which instinctively demonises anyone who might try and ‘do good to you’ without you seeking it first. This is pretty nasty right wing thinking which has effectively infiltrated the mass consciousness.
But doing good, in and of itself, is surely not something bad. I tend to think that people who go knocking on doors to tell others the ‘good news’ might even think that they too are ‘doing good’.
There’s certainly a lesson for all of us, to be careful in our unguarded and thoughtless use of language when talking to others about our beliefs. I imagine that when you’ve knocked on a few thousand doors, you end up falling back on a few clichéd phrases, and the do-gooders thing just slipped out of the poor guy’s mouth at the wrong moment.