I’m a good person. How many times have we heard this exclamation from family members or friends? How often do we think about this for ourselves? Everyone, well most of us I think, wnt to believe, to think, that whatever actions we take, are for the good. Not necessarily for humanity (although I’ve met those), but just for their immediate circle of family or friends. I’ve thought this about myself at times, but I wonder, what was my motivation for thinking this? It may be that I did something that I would never have considered in my past; even though the result was good, was that my motivation?
Sometimes, we are in a situation where, without thinking, we perform acts of compassion, even heroism. Think about it. Being on a highway and witnessing an awful accident. Do you get out of your car and try and render assistance, aid, to possibly save lives or do you just dial emergency services and go on your way? Most of us would probably say we would try and give aid. In most states, however, performing aid, without a medical license of any kind (Doctor, Nurse, EMT) may, if the person(s) being aided die, would result in a charge on Manslaughter. That’s right. Not having any expertise in life-saving in many states is illegal. So we leave those people, that we may be able to help, to die before assistance can arrive. Does that make sense?
Of course, that’s an extreme example, something that a majority of people will never experience. What about those decisions made that may harm someone personally or professionally? How about a family member, like a child? When we make a decision that may hurt another who are we really considering? Most people I know would say that they are thinking about what’s best for the company, their social circle or their family. Is that true? Who are we really thinking about? In who’s best interest is this? I tend to believe in many cases, that each of us are looking out for ourselves.
No one gets up in the morning and asks themselves, how can I make myself look good to the detriment of others. Okay, maybe there are a few people like that. In fact, I am sure I know at least one. that’s not what most people do, with any regularity anyway (notice what i did there?). We all look out for our own interests first. Anyone that denies that, well, in my opinion, doesn’t have a grasp on the human condition (reality).
All of us, everyday, have the opportunity to do good for someone; Maybe for more than just one person. That person doesn’t have to be a stranger. I try to do something good for my daughter everyday. I try, when I go to the store every week, to show respect for not only the other customers, but those that work there as well. It’s become instinct for me. Laugh at a silly joke (well, it is funny), open a door for someone, help another that needs help loading groceries in their car.
Little things, that I never consider. Little things, from a time, when I was a child, were common which no longer seem to be that way. Does any of that make me a good person?
No, but if I think about it, it makes me human.
5 thoughts on “What Defines a “Good Person”?”
Of course as an atheist & a secularist I’m attuned to the here & now. I do good for goodness sake not for the sake of an afterlife. Morality comes from empathy & reasoning. And it demonstrates & expresses itself when people interact with one another. I see no evidence that it comes from some sort of supernatural revelation or guidance. I don’t recognize it or acknowledge it.
I base my morality on reality, well being, cooperation, reason, empathy, what is beneficial or harmful to people or the rest of the planet.
Contrary to religious belief, the human race is not a fallen people. We are an emerging people, a changing people, a growing people, an evolving people. Our problem is not that we are born in sin.
(Which is the most poisonous and self destructive idea in human history) Our problem is that we haven’t yet achieved what it means to be fully human.
What it means to be human is to be better than what we are. It’s about honesty. Not just being honest with other people, but with ourselves. Loyalty to others. Taking responsibility & accountability for one’s own actions. Placing the needs of others ahead of our own.
In short, what it means to be a good person or to be truly human, is to do the right thing, even when no one’s looking.
Maybe salvation should be conveyed in terms of enhancing that humanity, not rescuing us from it.
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We all, all of us, do things for our own enrichment whether that is personal or professional. The “good” in us exists in that we do things without thought to our betterment. Helping someone in a grocery store parking lot, load their groceries. Making sure those you work with, who are exceptional are rewarded. Those are the easy ones. The difficulty is when something comes between you and something else; That being a person or a situation. What do you do? Do you look out for yourself,?
Ultimately, everything we do is for our own betterment. Altruism, as a concept, rarely ever happens. Even for people willing to give their lives for others, they’re still expecting to be remembered as a hero, which is a form of ego. It’s all about getting that dopamine hit in the brain. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s how charity is done, by people who want to feel good about doing things ostensibly for others, but it isn’t altruism. It’s brain chemistry. That’s just reality.
I think there are acts of altruism. I’ve witnessed it once or twice. There could never be a thought that the person was performing the act to become a hero, because he didn’t survive the experience.
Interesting. I rarely think of myself first, or second, or in my own self interest, but I don’t think that makes me a good person; it is just the way I am. But that is complicated too, as doing good for my husband just because I don’t think of myself, means that he is taken care of and together we can continue the life we have made and so it benefits me.
“Doing good for goodness sake” as we secular humanists like to say, is what makes for a good person. Doing good, when it would be easier to do evil or to do nothing, makes for goodness.
I understand your notion of everything we do, we do ultimately for some self enrichment, Jim. I think some people, such as me, seem to react automatically to do good without regard for our safety or even the safety of those we love. I do not seek out those situations, as some do, and I would call those, who do so, truly good, but then that might come with a gratifying reward to their ego, which is what you are writing about. So that is good for them, as well as, good for those they help. And doing good to help others better their lives is good for the advancement of humanity, which benefits the rest of us…or maybe not. Sometimes it is necessary to do evil to do good for the advancement and betterment of humanity and sometimes doing good advances evil in the world. It is a dilemma…
The “difficulty” you mentioned, could you elaborate on such a situation to aid the discussion, please?