What Makes a Person Good?

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?

(Image via ShutterStock.)

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