What Does It Mean To Be A Good Person?

In general, most people think of themselves as good people. But what does that mean, exactly? Does being a good person mean that most of the actions you take are good ones?

As the saying goes, everyone is the hero of their own story. The actions we take make sense to us, given our own experiences and knowledge.

Even the best person is bound to do bad things occasionally. Does the number of bad actions make someone a bad person? What about the percentage of bad to good acts?

Then there is the issue of intent. To what extent does intent play a part in determining a good person form a bad one?

For example, let’s imagine that someone steals something. Stealing is wrong. But what if you steal, say, a loaf of bread to feed a starving family member? The theft may still be a bad action, but does the purpose — to provide for your family — ease the severity of the bad act?

A lie to save someone’s feelings, robbing from the rich to give to the poor, or exaggerating on a resume to get a job. These all seem like minor infractions that serve a greater good. Or do they? Is this just moral relativism, a mental trick to justify whatever actions we want?

It might seem simple and straightforward to think good people do good things, and bad people do bad things. But that would seem to suggest that all of life is just an accounting exercise. Track every action, every thought, every saying. If your final tally ends up on the proper side, you are a good person. Is that realistic?

In summary, do you think you are a good person? What does it mean to be a good person?

Related questions: When is a lie justified? What do you do that you shouldn’t? How do you judge yourself? What gives a person value?

Zoo Or No Zoo?

A zoo can be the first exposure that a person has to animals from around the world. This might make them more aware of the ecosystem and our place in it. Alternately, is it moral to take an animal from it’s natural habitat, and keep it in a small enclosure?

Is it better to have zoos or no zoos?

Share why if you wish.

What Are We Responsible For?

This Sunday’s question comes from regular reader Meagan, who asks: What are we responsible for?

One of the most important parts of become an adult is determining, and performing, your responsibilities. Paying your bills, doing your laundry, stocking your refrigerator, and so on.

However, beyond our individual responsibilities are the societal ones. Determining what exactly we, collectively, are responsible for is much more challenging.

In the first place, there is the issue of scope. Are we only responsible for ourselves? Our families? Or zoom out a bit. Do we bear any responsibility for our country, our species, or our ecosystem?

Additionally, there is the problem of impact. Should we consider ourselves responsible for something we have little control over? Do I bear any responsibility for the human race, when I have limited control over the vast majority of it? And how much responsibility do I have over my genetics, over which I have little control?

There is a fine balancing act in place in this regard. It can be easy to take on so much responsibility that it becomes impossible to act. However, feeling some sense of larger responsibility can lead to inspiration, which can lead to positive societal change.

How do you find that balance? When you think about your responsibilities, what are they? Do we have a collective responsibility?

Related questions: What are our responsibilities to others? What makes a community?  How much power does an individual have? What are you doing to make the world a better place? What is the greatest problem facing humanity?

 

When Should You Not Follow The Law?

A system of laws, or rules that we all must follow, is one of the crowning achievements of our society. The law makes civilization possible, so that different people can work together to do more than any individual could manage on their own.

At the same time, there have been, and will continue to be, bad laws that have been enacted. Laws can be unfair, either intentionally or unintentionally. And if there is a bad law, good people cannot be expected to follow it.

Sometimes, even good laws are broken. It is a rare individual indeed who has not jaywalked at least once in their life, but the existence of crosswalks increase public safety. Speeding on the road is common, even though speed limits are in place for a very good reason — they save lives.

But how does someone determine which laws should and should not be followed? The law itself allows our civilization to function, and any sort of mass, consistent breaking of the law by a significant portion of the populace would cause society to break down. Conversely, blindly following unjust laws could also lead to to an unjust society.

As individuals, we have a duty to follow the laws that our peers have agreed upon. However, we also have a duty to stand up to injustice, even if that means breaking the law.

How can we determine which is which? When should you not follow the law? What should the consequences be for someone who breaks an unjust or unfair law? Should we only try and amend unfair laws, or is it important to break them when necessary? When is it necessary?

Related questions: What are our responsibilities to others? When is a lie justified? What do you do that you shouldn’t? Where does authority come from?