Faith ForaysWhat Makes a Person Good?Becca Rose

We’d all like to be considered good people. I don’t know of anyone who, when asked, would tell you that they’d like to be a bad person forever and always. We surround ourselves with people who we think are good, on at least some level. In the grand scheme of life, I know what I want people to say when they talk about me: there’s a good person, right there.

But being a “good person” is such an arbitrary measuring stick. It’s used to rationalize and obscure and defend – yes, I did do that bad thing, but I am a good person, really, I swear – and it’s a label that’s really easily applied to just about anyone. There are obvious exceptions, of course, but for the most part it’s hard to argue that almost anybody can call themselves a good person, and really mean it too.

With this in mind, I decided to conduct an extensive scientific research project on the idea of being a “good person” and what that means to us. So I posted a question on Facebook: “What do you think makes up a Good Person?” My highly advanced research technique revealed that a good person is generally seen as someone who is virtuous, who has character, who comports themselves with dignity and respect for others. Honesty, integrity, strong values, kindness, and compassion were all words that were thrown out there. My sister Grace said that “an honest character is what creates the value of kindness.” I liked that idea quite a bit. My friend John told me that a good person is someone who makes people go “Wow.” Mandy posited that it was perhaps both something you could be born with, and something that could be cultivated over time. My younger brother could only be coerced to reply that a good person is one with excellent calve muscles, which he believes he has. My survey responses were, as you can see, a mixed bag.

There’s not a Good Person Police who goes around and holds up our lives against a universally agreed upon measuring stick and tells us if we meet the requirement. It’s largely a cultural thing too – our values in the Western world might make us terrible people in other cultures. I think, to a certain extent, we all invent our own standard of what a good person is and what it means to try and shape our lives around that ideal.

My view of what a good person consists of is complicated. I believe in the things listed above – I think they are all lovely values and traits to find in a person. They’re things I hope to cultivate in myself. I think a good person also acknowledges their own messiness. Good people know they’re fragile and make mistakes and imperfect. They embrace their flaws and faults. A good person cannot exist on their own, devoid of community. I believe good people have others in their lives who surround them, who challenge them and grow with them. Good people are made better by those whom they live in community with.

I’ve also got this handy theory that anything that makes you a better person ultimately hurts. Like, hurts real bad. This isn’t always true, and if life was full of only happy clappy experiences that made us awesome by virtue of their wonderful-ness, I’d totally sign up for that. But really, a great rule of thumb that I’ve developed is that if something hurts it’s probably making me a better person. I don’t know where this all fits together, and I still don’t have a solid definition on what makes a good person GOOD. But for a working theory, I think I’m off to a strong start.

What about you, readers? What do you think makes a good person GOOD?

Photo my own – a few of the good people in my life.

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  1. You can pretty much tell whether a person is good or bad by how they treat a waitress. ;)

  2. I also find myself kind of concerned about what exactly makes a person ‘good.’ I think that, ultimately, it’s being a self-aware person who takes into account the feelings and circumstances of others more than oneself’s. Somebody who puts other people before themselves but STILL knows when to back off and not bend over backwards for people who AREN’T worth it. I think being a genuine GOOD person is more something natural than something cultivated.

    I’ve met many a person who you can tell are naturally mean-spirited and difficult but have been pretty much prodded to LEARN what it is to be a good person and they do everything a good person should but, it just never feels genuine. Maybe it is possible to learn but, the true colors will come out eventually.

  3. It’s unfortunate that sometimes people overlook the goodness of others and focus more on the superficial things. Your article is a great reminder that everyone has good in them and has good intentions. I think the world would be a more understanding and empathetic place if we focused more on that good in people.

    Also your little brother’s response made me laugh out loud – my little brother is obsessed with his calves too!! hahaha

  4. I think no matter what your values, interests or activities consist of, whether you work for your money or sell drugs or you sponge off people… I just believe that if you are who you are without ever hurting anyone intentionally, that’s what makes someone a “good person”. When you intentionally hurt other people, in my eyes, you’re a horrible person.

  5. Great article, Becca. It really depressed me how we are growing to consider being good as being ‘stupid’. A ‘sucker’.
    I think that a good person is the one who sees the good in everyone else.
    PS. That’s completely irrelevant, but this column gets to ‘that’ side of me. I lost my grandfather a few days ago. He was healthy and very lively despite his 78 years. he went everywhere by bike and he had strong faith. It was very sidden and shocking and I just felt like sharing this to remind you guys out there the things that actually matter in life and to wish to each and every one reading these lines to be healthy and happy and cherish their loved ones. Because at some point they live and the moments we’ve had with them are never enough.
    Love to all! x