What I Didn’t Expect I’d Learn From ‘The Good Place’

by Auriel Simmonds

*spoilers ahead*

Films and TV shows usually seem to fall into one of two categories: light entertainment or thought provoking content. The Good Place, created by Michael Schur, however, is an exception – it’s both. I can watch it when I’m too tired to think and still enjoy it. I can rely on it for company on the days that I just want to wrap myself up in a furry blanket and hide away. But I can also watch it and find myself thinking about complex things. Like the difference between what’s good and bad, and the extent to which society has shaped our views. And I LOVE that. 

The Afterlife

The interpretation of the afterlife in The Good Place is very simple. Yet I find myself unable to decide where I’d end up between the good, bad and medium place.

We discover that the people we thought were in the ‘Good Place’ are actually in a fake simulation. This fabricated world was created and designed by a demon from the ‘Bad Place’ in order to torture them. This truly baffled me because the characters do not seem deserving of eternal damnation. Haven’t we all deliberated over our decisions for so long that it annoyed others (as is Chidi’s crime)? Or felt insecure in the shadow of a successful sibling (Tatiana’s crime)? Is there really no compassion for a woman who acts misguidededly as a result of a neglectful upbringing (Eleanor)? Or does it make sense to eternally damn a man who doesn’t seem to understand anything that is happening…ever (Jason)?  

In all honesty, I really hope the afterlife doesn’t determine our fate based on a point system. Especially not one that considers buying a trashy magazine a -0.75 points. But, even though I’m still not sure that the characters ever deserved to be in the ‘Bad Place’, I know that I have learnt things that I never expected I would. So, I thought I’d share them with you!

It’s Literally Never Too Late To Change

In her life, Eleanor Shellstrop acted carelessly and treated people terribly. This was as a result of being too afraid to ever commit to a friendship or relationship because that would make her vulnerable. And, it’s safer to avoid getting close to someone than to risk getting your heart broken, right? Well…

The Good Place teaches us about compassion and having time for one another. It shows that we can encourage self-growth in others and become better and more open people. Eleanor finds out the truth about the afterlife and thus, how to end up in the Good Place. This means that she will inevitably end up in the Bad Place since nothing she does can be said to have been done for goodness’ sake and not just to get into the Good Place. When she learns this, she heads to a bar to drown her sorrows and attempts to revert back to the person she was. The person before all the ethical lessons with Chidi and new friendships with the people in the group. But, she finds herself unable to steal the money from a wallet she finds.

Eleanor Changing Proves One Thing…

The Eleanor Shellstrop who died and ended up in the fake Good Place would never have thought twice about taking the money. But the Eleanor Shellstrop who died and learnt about ethics and more importantly, about compassion and what it means to be cared for, does. She even travels to two different addresses to return the lost wallet to the rightful owner. In spite of knowing that her awful fate is unavoidable regardless of her actions, she is still changed for the better by her experiences in the fake Good Place.

If eternal damnation can’t stop someone from changing, then it’s literally never too late to change. It doesn’t have to be a complete character overhaul. You can change for the better in any aspect of your life with significant and positive consequences. Acknowledging flaws in your personality and working on bettering your behaviour is powerful if you try!

Friendship Can Be Found Where You’d Never Think To Look

In society, there tends to be distinct lines when it comes to friendships. In high school sitcoms, they often portray the different ‘friendship’ groups i.e the jocks, the nerds, the theatre kids, the cheerleaders, the outcasts e.t.c. But, The Good Place laughs in the face of those stereotypes. And it’s important you do too or you could be missing out.

Although such notions of friendship are usually seen in high schools, as you get older, the friendship lines still seem to apply. People find comfort and safety in knowing and being ‘friends’ with people who are similar to them and who they’ve known for a long time. And of course, it’s so important to have common interests with your friends. But sometimes, the best friendships challenge you. Not in terms of making you feel sad, but in encouraging you to question and rethink about certain things. These friendships open you up to more things and help you to grow as a person. The way to achieve this in a friendship is to have a friend who is different to you and who likes different things.

Eleanor and Chidi would never have known each other in life. And this isn’t just because they hadn’t crossed paths since, if they had, they’d never have interacted because their personalities are so different! I mean, Chidi was an ethics professor while Eleanor believes living ethically is lame. And yet, they find that they actually like and appreciate the other’s personality despite their differences. Their friendship is more than just liking the same things. Instead it helps them both experience more- whether that be compassion for others (Eleanor) or being a bit less anxiety-ridden (Chidi).

Forget Expectations

Tahani, the highly-educated socialite forms a friendship/relationship with Jason, the absent-minded drug-dealer, in the afterlife, and forgets their societal positions. Although Tahani initially wishes to hide it from the others due to feeling shameful, she realises that it’s one of the only true friendships she’s had since most of hers have been shallow and meaningless and, essentially, she becomes proud of it. This shows that friendship is unique and shouldn’t depend on race, colour or creed.

Friendships are complex because they’re all different. But the friendship that Eleanor and Chidi share, highlights one thing: friendship can be found where you’d never think to look. Often, an unlikely friendship is the one that offers you the most in the way of care, growth and fun and different experiences.

Making The Right Decision Is Nearly Impossible, Sometimes ft. The Trolley Problem.

In Season 2, episode 5, Michael actualises The Trolley Problem -a thought experiment in ethics. The problem is that you see a runaway trolley that is moving quickly towards five incapacitated people who are lying on the tracks. You are standing next to the lever that controls the switching of the tracks and if you switch the tracks, the trolley will move onto a different track and the five people will be saved. BUT, there is a single person lying on the other track that the trolley would be forced onto.  What do you do?

This is a thought experiment that has plagued ethic professors for many years and there is still no definite consensus on what the most ethical thing to do is. This highlights the fact that ethics is not black-and-white, and that sometimes, making the right decision is nearly impossible. However, what The Good Place teaches us, is that as long as you try to be the best that you can be and do the most ethically sound things that you can do, you’re doing well. Living ethically isn’t about reaching absolute ethical excellence. It’s about being open to growing and learning from your mistakes and bettering yourself whenever you can.

Doug, The Stoner

The Good Place is amazing and I think it is, in part, due to the fact that the show so directly dismisses the theological conversation which can exclude so many people. It references a man who Michael calls ‘Doug, The Stoner’ as being the only person in the history of the universe to get 92% right about the afterlife. That is, before forgetting it all once he came down. This plays with the idea that The Good Place is not about what religion is ‘right’ or what we should do to get to the better place in the afterlife.t

The show focuses on how life is really just about doing good for ourselves and others and remembering that perfection in terms of living ethically, is not just difficult- it can be impossible. And that’s okay. Be as good as you can be.

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