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 from 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?

1 thought on “What Does It Mean To Be A Good Person?”

  1. “Good” is a very subjective word; there are likely millions of versions of what it means to be a good person.

    Personally, I think the Golden Rule — a version of which is found in many of the world’s religions — is one of the most useful standards of what it means to be a good person to others. I think the virtue of reverence is how we should judge our treatment of the environment. And, drawing from five of Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins, to be good, people should not engage in:

    • wealth without works,
    • pleasure without conscience,
    • knowledge without character,
    • commerce without morality, and
    • politics without principle.

    Lastly, I think we all need a healthy sense of doubt to truly be good. We can’t know everything, so we shouldn’t act like we do.

    Of course, we all fall short of our standards — oh my, do I. So I guess another question is when we fall short, do we work to atone.

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