Damon Young: Being a good person is great. Having good taste is better.

This should come to no surprise to anyone reading this, or anyone who knows me, or anyone who has clicked on a Zoom I happened to be on, or anyone who has driven behind me on I-376 East for more than seven minutes any time between 7:37 and 7:52 on a Tuesday morning, but I am not a good person.

Am I a bad person? No. I don’t think so, at least. I obey the laws that I consider to be reasonable, I am kind to most babies, and I have never purchased or worn any professional sports team apparel. But good is a high standard to reach. It means, to me, that you exist above and beyond expected human behavior. I do not. At most, if “expected human behavior” is a field of grass, I am a dandelion occasionally hovering above it, easy and cocky, until the slightest of winds crashes me back to the dirt.

For years I considered myself to be good. At least I thought I did. What was actually happening was an extended conflation of “wanting to be good” with “actually being good.” And also, mixed in there, a conflation of “the performance of goodness.” (It was a mass conflating event.) I think I wanted to be seen as good more than I wanted to actually be good. Because each time I had a choice between a quiet goodness and a quiet assembly line humanity, I chose the conveyor belt.

For instance, in my book I have a paragraph devoted to all of the mishaps and mild discomforts I wish on a particular someone who once — literally just once — teased me in high school. It’s been three years since the book was released. In that time, I’ve done yoga (twice), I’ve gone to therapy and I started intentionally drinking lukewarm water. Do I still hold this useless, 25-year-long grudge? Absolutely. I’ve even thought of more mild discomforts I wish on him. I hope that tomorrow he rushes out of the house because he’s late for an appointment. But when he’s a mile away from home, he can’t remember if he turned off the iron, so he rushes back home, only to see that he did turn it off. I am objectively ungood.

Thinking about goodness and ungoodness led me to a revelation — or perhaps less a revelation and more an acceptance of something I’ve always felt in my soul but didn’t want to admit because it might jeopardize my goodness. Being a good person is good, but it’s mostly not worth the effort, and it’s usually indistinguishable from the median. What is worth the effort? Good taste.

I know, I know, I know. Without actively good people to balance the actively bad, the world would collapse. The world is already collapsing; I get your point! But listen: Good taste is underrated. It’s associated with snobbery (which also gets a bad rap) when it’s really just a practice of intentional discernment developed into a hard personal edict. It’s less about appreciating only “good” things and more about having a quicker recognition of objectively bad things, and choosing not to partake.

There’s no more efficient way of avoiding unnecessary annoyance and self-induced trauma than developing good taste, and allowing it to be your lodestar. You won’t waste time attending disappointing events, because you’ll be able to tell, just from the font on the flier, that it’s not worth your time. You’ll make quicker and better decisions about the people you choose to have in your life. Even if you, like me, are not a good person, the possession of taste helps you surround yourself with good people, to balance out your gentle depravity. Just think of how many disastrous relationships and romances you would have dodged if you, at the time, simply had better taste. Of course, bad decisions are a necessary stop on the taste-possessing journey. But taste, once it develops, prevents unnecessary repeats.

Good taste is less about appreciating only “good” things and more about having a quicker recognition of objectively bad things.

Ultimately, taste is people-based, because it’s discovering and prioritizing the care that people put into doing and creating things. It’s an appreciation of intention. And nowhere is the possession of taste more important than when deciding whether a person is a suitable long-term romantic partner. Sure, things like kindness and empathy and responsibility and sexual compatibility matter or whatever. Fine. But a shared appreciation for and possession of taste is the lubricant that reduces the inevitable friction of the endless mundane. The vast majority of the time you spend with each other will be sitting together on a couch, or standing next to an open refrigerator, or lying together in a bed, counting the thread count of a top sheet. In those tens of thousands of moments, would you rather spend them with a good person with the taste of broken mulch, or a dandelion who makes you laugh?

(That question was rhetorical. The answer was obvious, to people with taste.)

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