What makes a person “good” in the grand scheme of things?
There are some traits considered to be good by just about everyone. There are also cultural variables as to what symbolizes and expresses goodness in a person.
Ultimately, it’s up to the individual to determine what they feel are the qualities of a “good person.”
When we’re asked to explain why some of our heroes are (or were) sincerely good people, many of these traits will make the list.
A good person is a prudent person. Prudence is the ability to determine whether or not a particular action is a good (or appropriate) idea at that specific point in time. It’s considered to be one of the four cardinal virtues, derived originally from Plato’s Republic.
Prudence also refers to a situation in which you have the strength to do something, but choose not to. Or, when you could do something that’s self-indulgent in the moment, but choose to err on the side of better judgment for later.
An example of this would be refraining from spending money on games and junk food because you need to save enough to cover your portion of the rent and bills. You may spend a bit on a small indulgence, but choose responsibility over temporary amusement or gratification.
Although most people interpret temperance as being abstinence from something, what it actually means is moderation.
Having temperance means finding the middle path, and balancing the self in the face of any situation. It encompasses self-discipline and self-awareness. After all, you have to know your own abilities as well as your own limits in order to find the moderate zone between them.
For example, embodying a sense of diplomacy as a moderator means finding that magical middle ground between expressing what you need to say, with the needs and views of others around you.
In other people, temperance might mean accepting a small drink when toasting with others, but refraining from drinking to inebriation. Or thoroughly enjoying a slice of cake without overindulging.
When you are balanced and measured in your approaches to everything, you can experience and understand all without being overwhelmed by it.
Good people often show courage. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, but rather the ability to take action even though you feel afraid. It is knowing that there is a difficult, potentially dangerous task ahead of you, but doing it because you know it needs to be done.
This one goes along with several of the other qualities listed here. For example, it often takes courage to act with integrity.
Courage can take many forms, from trying a new, challenging exercise to standing up to an intimidating person, or facing something that scares you.
The first level of courage is doing something even though it terrifies you.
The last level is being a calm, inspirational force to others, while feeling the same fear that they’re experiencing.
For example, a high-ranking officer in a WWI trench was a bastion of calm and confidence, while the troops around him were quaking with fear. A young Private asked him how he was so calm, and the officer replied that he had to be in order to keep morale up. Additionally, he knew that the soldiers on the other side were also afraid, and that was oddly reassuring to him.
Being compassionate isn’t just about understanding someone else’s pain. It’s also the desire to help alleviate it. One can look at a person and see that they’re suffering (sympathy) and then walk on by. But when we want to do what we can to help, then that’s compassion in action.
Ultimately, the basic element of compassion is kindness. We want to give of our own abilities to help another being who may be suffering. We can have compassion for people, animals, trees, rivers… anything that seems to be in distress that we can help to lessen.
The greatest mastery of compassion is when the one you’re trying to help is hurting you, and yet you’re still offering them assistance in a loving, gentle way. An adult may rail against you, or the hurt animal may bite you, but you still try to help.
Compassion means that you understand another’s pain without compounding it, offering what the other needs, and giving of yourself, regardless of the outcome.
Generosity is a quality often associated with a good person. When we have a surplus of something, it’s important to share with others who have less. Even if we don’t have a surplus, it’s important to share with others.
We always have something that we can share or give to those around us. This doesn’t have to be monetary wealth or physical objects, either. People who don’t have a lot of money can still be immensely generous with their time, for example. They can volunteer with the elderly or doing charity work. Or they can teach their skills to others who would like to learn from them.
Being generous means that you’re giving with the heart, without any schemes to receive anything in return, or control those you are being generous with. These are gifts freely given, not because you think you’ll benefit in turn.
Quite often, those who have the least are the most generous toward others, because they know what it’s like to have nothing. They have the biggest hearts, and tend to be the most willing to help others in need.
This is one of the qualities that many admire, but it is also one of the most difficult to put into practice. It’s possible that this is because few of use are actually patient by nature.
We tend to want things on our terms, on our own time. As a result, we get frustrated and annoyed when things don’t play out the way we think they should.
This is why it’s important to remember that the world doesn’t revolve around our wants and our schedule. There are billions of other players on this chess board, all engaged in an intricate dance. As such, we need to acknowledge and respect that we are all cogs in the machine, and our time to turn will come when it’s meant to.
Furthermore, it’s important to be aware that a lack of patience can cause a great deal of harm. People can only do their best, and when we’re impatient with those who aren’t as capable as we are, we can make them feel truly horrible about themselves. Or worse, they may end up traumatized and damaged.
This is why it’s important to be patient with the grandmother or the child when crossing the road in a hurry, because they can’t keep up with you. If you’re not, and you walk away quickly instead of helping, they may end up getting hurt.
Patience means that you can remain calm and measured in your responses, even when irritated. To not throw a tantrum when forced to wait. And to not complain unduly when things are taking longer than expected.
Respect is undoubtedly a characteristic of a good person. When we talk about respect, we’re encompassing various aspects thereof. This includes respect for other people, self-respect, respect for life, for nature, etc.
Tolerance, esteem, appreciation, and recognition are just a few aspects of respect that can come into play.
For example, we can respect nature by not throwing garbage around or polluting water supplies. We can respect housemates by acknowledging the fact that they live their lives differently than we do, so we don’t project our behavioral expectations onto them.
We can respect our bodies by eating well and getting plenty of exercise, and show self-respect by not engaging in activities that would make us feel shame later.
We acknowledge boundaries – our own and other people’s – and don’t overstep them for the sake of self-indulgence. We acknowledge that every individual is perfect, sovereign, and sacred. As such, we don’t put others down or mistreat them. Instead, we pay attention when they speak, honor their words, heed their personal choices.
It doesn’t take much effort to help others feel seen and heard, but it makes a world of difference to them when we do so.
Tolerance means accepting that others may think, behave, or live differently than we are, without trying to change their ways to suit our own preferences.
In simplest terms: live and let live.
Seek to understand your contemporaries in other cultures, races, religions, and creeds, rather than attacking them for their differences from you.
This is the difference between people who talk about how tolerant they are, but want to lead the next witch hunt.
In the 1600s it was witches. In the 1800s it was Amerindians. In the 1930s it was Jews. It is what it is today, and in 200 years, there will be another target group for people’s ire.
Don’t jump on that bandwagon. We’re all better than that.
A good person will act with integrity. Integrity means doing the right thing, even when nobody is watching. It’s holding to your individual moral and ethical convictions despite other people’s opinions and influences. Especially when it’s difficult to do so.
For example, let’s say that you’re working on a construction site and you find a precious artifact. You’re only making minimum wage at this gig, and this is a centuries-old gold ring buried in the mud. Nobody saw it except you. If you sold it, you’d likely make a ton of money. But you also recognize that it has historical significance.
Your sense of integrity would have you report the ring to the local coroner or Finds liaison officer so they can investigate it. Sure, you might get a reward for it – likely less than you’d have made for pawning it – but you know it’s the right thing to do. You didn’t have to, but you did it anyway.
This one goes along with integrity, but expands upon it differently.
Commitment means that you’ve held to your word, even if it was difficult to do so. This might mean sticking with a job or project that you absolutely hate because you promised someone that you would do so. Or it could be remaining faithful to a partner, despite your own non-monogamous leanings, because you gave your word that you’d be loyal.
You’ll see something through, simply because you made a promise.
A person who keeps their commitments is someone who can be trusted and relied upon. When you’re known as someone who keeps their word, you’re incredibly valued and respected in your community, as well as among your friends and loved ones.
Honesty is often expressed as a quality of a good person. After all, if you discovered that someone lied to you, could you ever trust them again? If they lied to you that time, what would stop them from lying to you about everything and anything else?
People respect and appreciate honesty, especially when it’s difficult. For example, if and when we mess up horribly at work, but own that screw-up, admit to it, and take action to remedy it. Our employers and peers will respect us a lot more than if we try to cover it up or cast blame on others.
Furthermore, many people even appreciate honesty when it’s a bit hurtful. When someone is honest about a difficult topic or situation, it means that they care enough not to betray the other’s trust by lying about it.
Of course, a lot depends on how a truth is shared. We can be gentle in our tone and the words we choose, rather than being cruel or scathing. How a truth is delivered can make the difference between long-term positive change, and trauma.
You know the type of person who’s always bragging about how awesome they are? Humility is the opposite of that.
Humility is holding to the idea that no person is greater or lesser than any others, despite popularity, wealth, titles, or achievements.
Those who feel that they are better or more important than other people tend to treat others badly. Since they consider themselves to be special, they often expect better treatment, and to be allowed to belittle those around them.
In contrast, someone who remains humble treats everyone around them with care and respect. They don’t tell others about all the wonderful charitable things they’ve done: they just do them. Their actions are for the greater good, not for the acknowledgement and praise they’ll receive from doing so.
The strength that makes a good person is mental and emotional rather than physical. Strength can be shown in a gentle way, albeit one that is unyielding. Look at Mahatma Gandhi and his hunger strike. It took immense strength to quash his own hunger, though agonizing, in order to work toward positive change.
Hannibal and Marcus Aurelius showed immense strength of character in keeping everyone together while undertaking a massive journey.
Anne Frank and Mother Teresa both showed tremendous strength in atrocious circumstances. Furthermore, their ability to love and care for others remained intact despite the horrors they witnessed and experienced.
You’ve likely noticed that strength and compassion, and strength and courage are linked. This is because strength is not always a projective virtue, but rather it’s an adaptive term.
Strength is often a battery for many of the other qualities on this list. For example, you may show immense strength when you hold to integrity when everyone around you is doing something that goes against everything you believe in. Standing up for what you believe is right might be dangerous to you – perhaps even life threatening. As such, it takes immense strength of character and will to be true to yourself.
There are many different types of love, despite the fact that only one word is used to encompass them in the Western world. We’re mostly familiar with romantic love, or the love felt between parents and children. But we can love humanity or nature with all our hearts as well. And we know that we love when we pour our energy toward other beings’ happiness, health, success, and freedom.
Some people mistake infatuation for love. Or possessiveness. Someone might love another person because they feel that the other person will give them what they need. Similarly, they might love a pet, or a house, or any other being or creature that brings them fulfillment.
In contrast, when we truly love a person, our greatest wish is for their happiness.
Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski covers this when he talks about “fish love.” What most people consider to be “love” is when their needs are fulfilled. Such as a man who eats a fish because he loves fish. This man loves the fish he’s eating so much that he took it out of the water, boiled it, and is eating it. He loves himself, and sees the fish as something that will fulfill his needs and wants.
If he truly loved the fish, he would encourage it to swim happily and lead a beautiful life.
Real love isn’t a question of what we’re going to get from a situation or a person, but what we can give.
You know in your gut when you’ve done wrong, or when you have done good.
If you ever do something and feel a twinge of shame or disgust with your actions, then you’re fully aware that you didn’t act in love or respect. Perhaps you did something sneaky for the sake of your own self-interests. Or the selfish altruism you displayed was far more for your own benefit than the other person’s.
In contrast, when you’ve done something that’s ethical and loving, you’ll feel an immense lightness of being. A warm glow will suffuse through you, and you might even get a bit choked up. You know that your actions will have long-reaching positive repercussions; like a glowing pebble thrown into a pond. Every ripple will carry light along with it.
Listen to this feeling when it speaks to you. Recognize it as your own inner compass, and allow it to lead you to the sincere goodness you’re capable of.
You may also like:
- 10 Tips For Figuring Out What Kind Of Person You Want To Be
- What To Do If You Feel Like You’re A Bad Person
- 50 Personal Development Goals To Set Yourself
- What Is A Personal Philosophy And How Do You Develop One?
- What Should We Aspire To Most In Life?
- How To Show Respect For Others (+ Why It’s Important In Life)
- How To Be Truly Humble, And Why It’s Worth It
- How To Be Patient In An Increasingly Impatient World