What is a Good Person, Really?

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What is a good person? Is it someone who is religious? Jim Jones, David Koresh, Warren Jeffs, and Osama Bin Laden were all very religious, but were they good people? Was the Ayatollah Khomeini a good person? By whose definition is someone good?

 

Is someone who is kind to animals a good person? Hitler was kind to animals, but he wasn't a very good person, was he? I know a lot of animal nuts, and they tend to like their animals more than people. Does that make them good people or bad people?

 

Is a good person somebody who is totally unselfish? If that person gives away and donates to the point that they're jeopardizing themselves and/or their families, does that make them a good person or a bad person? When does the altruism end and the masochism begin?

 

Do good things always happen to good people? Not really. Do bad things happen to bad people? Not often enough. Is someone a bad person because they go to jail or prison? Not necessarily. Is someone a good person because they've never been incarcerated? Again, not necessarily.

 

One person's good is another person's bad. I actually overheard a woman say "I hate nice people." That's another can of worms. Is someone who is "nice" also "good"? When asked by an obnoxious old man what the "DKNY" stood for on her T-shirt, the same woman's caustic reply was "Don't Kare to [k]Now Ya." Maybe she was being a bad person, but maybe had the old man used a different tone, she possibly would have, too.

Comments

John Minehan Added Jun 9, 2018 - 4:40pm
Albert Camus said, "Neither victim nor executioner."  The Marines say, "No better friend, no worse enemy."  I think Bob Heinlein said, "Never insult anyone unintentionally."
 
I think those work.  I also had a boss in the Army who said, "Do your f-cking job and attend all social events," and that's part of it too. 
Michael B. Added Jun 9, 2018 - 4:48pm
John, good rules to live by, for sure. I believe the Marines lifted that one from Sulla's epitaph:
 
"No friend ever served me, and no enemy ever wronged me, whom I have not repaid in full".
 
I think the Hell's Angels also adopted that one, lol.
Ryan Messano Added Jun 9, 2018 - 5:00pm
Good article, I think a good person is a virtuous person, and a virtuous person is one who is able to love others at the expense of self.  Love is sacrificial.  Those who cannot sacrifice their own desires never realize true love or virtue.
 
Emerson said, “ It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no person can sincerely try to help another without helping him or herself. Serve and you shall be served. If you love and serve people, you cannot, by any hiding or stratagem, escape the remuneration.”
 
Love the Sulla quote.
 
Being a good person is connected with greatness.  Jesus said it well. “He that is greatest among you is servant to all”
 
Serving others is not always finding them food, clothing, or shelter.  The greatest gift one can give another, I’m convinced, is a good example, and the second greatest gift is the truth. 
 
The early American Founders nearly all agreed that man was inherently bad, and could not be good on his own without God and Christ.
John Minehan Added Jun 9, 2018 - 5:00pm
I can tell you, based on positive personnel experience, they (or, at least , the local chapter) live up to it.  I worked with a number of members many years ago and got on well with them.  A few years after that, my great aunt got mugged and they heard about it and put her under their protection.  She never had another issue. 
Michael B. Added Jun 9, 2018 - 5:14pm
Thank you Ryan. Yes, everyone has their own interpretations.
Michael B. Added Jun 9, 2018 - 5:17pm
John, are you talking about the USMC or the HAs? The HAs in my area pretty much got hounded out by multiple law enforcement agencies at all levels, as they were general menaces, with dope, tattoos, and hookers/dancers/escorts being their bread and butter.
Jeff Jackson Added Jun 9, 2018 - 5:37pm
Michael, some of us "believe" in karma. You send off good karma, good karma comes back to you. You send off bad karma, you get bad karma back.
I can tell you one that comes true a lot: "Surround yourself with good people and good things will happen." I think that is true.
Hitler was very strongly anti-abortion, a vegetarian, a non-smoker, and didn't marry because he wanted all of the women in Germany to think he might be available for them, or something akin to that notion. I think some bad karma came back on him.
Michael B. Added Jun 9, 2018 - 5:56pm
@ Jeff J. - "Surround yourself with good people and good things will happen." 
 
Very true, and certainly the opposite is probably even more so. I'm reminded of a line from the classic 1944 film Laura:
 
Mark McPherson: "I must say, for a charming, intelligent girl, you certainly surrounded yourself with a remarkable collection of dopes."
John Minehan Added Jun 9, 2018 - 6:42pm
I've had positive experiences with both the USMC and the local chapter of the Hell's Angels (and it is very much a local thing . . .  and a number of them were former Marines, oddly enough).
 
Most of them worked construction or as mechanics.  I knew them though construction. 
Pardero Added Jun 9, 2018 - 7:45pm
Michael B.
An old song popped into my head, Cruel To Be Kind by Nick Lowe, co-written by Ian Gomm, if I recall. From Hamlet.
 
That concept has always given me pause. Maybe related to 'tough love.' The recipient wouldn't consider you a good person, at least not initially. What if it didn't work as planned? Then you manipulated someone, caused them pain, for no gain.
Mama always liked to say,'The road to hell is paved with good intentions. 
 
You made me think. Thanks.
 
 
Flying Junior Added Jun 10, 2018 - 1:35am
Deep topic.  I will scratch the surface.  One of the most important things in life is to be nice.
 
The woman who said she hated  nice people...  I don't know?  Cynical?  Proud?  Independent?
 
Even accomplished burn artists are capable of being nice.
 
Good?  Take care of your own.  Take good care of your self.  Do no harm.  Do not steal.  Be a part of your community.
 
Oh yes.  If the Goddess does see fit to grant you authority over your fellow citizens...
 
Whatever the fuck you do, don't abuse your office to enrich your own fat self whilst letting the pieces fly where they will.
 
Don't just let indigent and poor people die or suffer needlessly.  Balance your own needs against your ability to contribute?
 
Jesus had it about right.  But he wasn't the only man or woman to understand how to be a helpful member of our society.
 
Who am I kidding?  I'm a selfish SOB.
opher goodwin Added Jun 10, 2018 - 5:40am
An interesting post that requires a great deal of thought.
I would suggest a good person is one who always considers other people and the environment in everything they do, who tries to make a positive difference and tries not to do any harm.
In other words they are not greedy, selfish, violent, hateful, vexatious, aggressive, violent or thoughtless. The are kind, thoughtful, pleasant, loving, altruistic, unselfish and benevolent.
It's a shame that there's not too many of them.
Bill Kamps Added Jun 10, 2018 - 6:40am
People are complex so very few are "all good' or "all bad".
 
Often the more powerful they are, the more extreme are BOTH the good and bad behaviors, because they are in position to affect events on a large scale.  That is why some politicians  like the Kennedys, or FDR, exude such extreme reactions from people.  Are people focused on the good they did or the bad?
 
Look at someone like Bobby Knight.  He was well known as being a  tyrant among his players.  He screamed at them, hit them, and did other unacceptable things as a coach.  And yet, he got them to graduate at a higher level than any  other big time basketball program.  He wouldnt take booster money, and told the boosters to donate the money to the university library, which they did with very large donations.  A complex person.
 
We often dont know a person well enough, to know all the good they do, or the bad they do.  Besides who are we to judge?  Some of us feel comfortable judging others based on their own criteria, but having traveled a lot, and seeing  what people need to do to survive, I stopped judging people, because I cant put myself in their situations. 
 
Besides judging people is just a wasted effort.  What I need to know is whether this is someone I want in my circle of acquaintances or not.  My judgement of them matters not spit.
 
 
Dino Manalis Added Jun 10, 2018 - 7:44am
 A good person is someone with morals and values who lives and behaves in peace with society.
Leroy Added Jun 10, 2018 - 8:58am
A very interesting and thought-proking article, Michael.  It caused me to reflect.
 
A good person to me is someone who always tries to do the right thing.  It doesn't mean that they are necessarily virtuous.  A good friend to this day belonged to the department of dirty tricks when in college.  If you needed something done or you needed a piece of equipment, he was the go-to guy.  You didn't ask questions.  But, he always--ultimately--did the right thing.  You didn't want to be his enemy.  He is the ablest person I have ever known.  
 
And, I don't mean these virtue signaling creeps who advertise how good they are.  I mean people who genuinely try to do the right thing, even if they screw up.  People who will stand their ground rather than screw you over.
Michael B. Added Jun 10, 2018 - 10:01am
@ John M. - I knew several HAs growing up, and they were pretty cool for the most part, but, like most other gangsters, they turned into assholes when they were around their buddies.
Michael B. Added Jun 10, 2018 - 10:01am
@ Pardero - Yes, very much so. Ask most parents whether the "nice" approach or the "tough" approach was better in raising their kids.
Michael B. Added Jun 10, 2018 - 10:01am
@ FJ - That was a good sampler, lol.
Michael B. Added Jun 10, 2018 - 10:01am
@ Opher - Nice, for sure, but how many people are out there that truly embody those qualities, and how useful are they, really? For example, many people would consider such a person a weakling (a "bad" person in their book) and would go straight for their jugulars.
Michael B. Added Jun 10, 2018 - 10:01am
@ Bill K. - Excellent examples Bill. Thank you for honoring my post by commenting on it. I also try to avoid judging people, but sometimes it is warranted.
Michael B. Added Jun 10, 2018 - 10:02am
@ Leroy - LOL Leroy, I cannot improve upon your comment! Yes, you don't want to have clever and resourceful people as enemies!
George N Romey Added Jun 10, 2018 - 10:21am
Yes there are truly evil people but most people are a mix.  FDR may have been one of the most complex public figures in history. He was an operator of all times. His paralysis gave him the ability to have the greatest compassion with how so many Americans were suffering through the Great Depression. Yet his ignorance and prejudice enabled the Pearl Harbor attack.
 
Im not so sure in today’s massive news cycle an FDR or JFK could exist.
Ryan Messano Added Jun 10, 2018 - 10:34am
While your article Michael, was about who is good, the exchange between Croesus and Solon in Athens appears to be appropriate and applicable, as goodness and happiness are often related.
 
Our culture today too often mistakes riches, power, and pleasure with being nice and good.  Millions of Americans look at Kim K. (Though I suspect few on
here) and think her beauty, riches, and fame make her a nice and a good person.  That’s simply not true.  Our culture has a huge problem with idolatry. Merit and objective truth get thrown under the bus.
 
https://andreaskluth.org/2009/05/15/croesus-learns-about-success-and-happiness/
Michael B. Added Jun 10, 2018 - 11:02am
@ George R. - Yes, they come in many shapes and forms. I admire Paul Allen for restoring WW2-era aircraft and vehicles, and his finding of WW2-era shipwrecks like the USS Indianapolis and the USS Lexington, to be admirable, hence "good". But others think he's "bad" because he doesn't spend those millions on something else.
Michael B. Added Jun 10, 2018 - 11:03am
Ryan, I'll have to look that up. The Ancient Greeks and Romans certainly impart wisdom of and through the ages. There's really nothing new under the Sun.
Katharine Otto Added Jun 10, 2018 - 11:20am
Michael B.,
Good post and comments.  I generally agree with Bill Kamps that it's not for me to judge.  However, I figure good people are those who bring out the best in me.  In other words, I like myself when around them.  It's purely subjective and may sound selfish, but it's the only gauge I have.
Michael B. Added Jun 10, 2018 - 11:38am
Thank you, Katherine. That's an excellent way of putting it. It's all subjective; to someone else, a person who makes potent and reliable IEDs is a "good" person. I'm reminded of a line from one of those hilarious little booklets that the religious types hand out at various vice-ridden street corners:
 
"Bad Bob is rude, crude, and socially unacceptable, but we love him because he sells us drugs."
 
One person's hooligan is another person's hero.
Ryan Messano Added Jun 10, 2018 - 11:42am
By that measure, Katherine, you’ll be surrounded by sycophants and obsequious types. 
 
Bill is wrong, I’m afraid.  The Matthew 7 Judge not passage is the most misused and abused passage in the Bible. It clearly does not mean don’t judge altogether, though it is commonly misrepresented as such by those who disobey these two Greek dictums “know thyself” and “the unexamined life is not worth living”. Those who don’t judge themselves make a virtue of necessity by trumpeting they don’t judge others.  I find those most indignant about being judged by others, are the least indignant about their own shortcomings. Jesus clearly said in John 7:24 “Judge righteous judgement”. The necessity of judging is throughout the entire Bible, but, unfortunately, 90% of today’s Christians are more attuned to their hellivisions, than the good book, and their check books get considerably more attention too. 
 
The Matthew 7 passage is saying don’t judge others on wrongdoings you yourself are doing.  So, I.e. the thief shouldn’t judge other for stealing, the liar shouldn’t judge others for lying, and the adulterer shouldn’t judge others for adultery.  Jesus follows with the instruction to first take the four by four out of our eye, before we try to take the speck out of our brothers.
 
 
opher goodwin Added Jun 10, 2018 - 1:00pm
Michael - they tried that with Mandela, Martin Luther King and Ghandi but found that they were by no means weak.
Jeffrey Kelly Added Jun 10, 2018 - 4:51pm
@Pardero:
 
I love that song, "Cruel to be Kind."  It's the perfect pop song.  The Rock Pile also played as the backing band when Robert Plant covered "Little Sister."
 
 Sorry, Michael, got spun out on a tangent.
Pardero Added Jun 10, 2018 - 6:58pm
Jeffrey Kelly,
Thank you for that tangent! 
 
Another song is nearly as perfect.
What's So Funny About Peace, Love, and Understanding? Originally by an early Nick Lowe led band called Brinsley Schwarz, Elvis Costello did a high energy cover of the song circa 1978. I noticed that Springsteen did a cover, too.
What's So Funny About Peace, Love, and Understanding
By the way, I had you down with the good guys, a long time ago, but that doesn't mean that I won't argue, occasionally.
MEFOBILLS Added Jun 10, 2018 - 10:28pm
Putin talking to a child at the hospital.
 
Are we to believe our eyes - maybe Putin is a good person, or maybe we should listen to all the other mixed messages.
 
Good or Not?
Dr. Rupert Green Added Jun 10, 2018 - 10:55pm
The Supreme Court recently ruled that Obama could not force a citizen to make him a cake that contravenes his religious belief. Good or bad?
MEFOBILLS Added Jun 11, 2018 - 12:16am
Whodunnit.  Good or Bad.
Who meddled with our Federal Republic?
Who or what overturned the 10'th amendment:
 
Social Policy left to the states
 
The Tenth:The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.
 
(The Constitution is SILENT on social policy, and this arena is left to the states.)
 
Wedding cake Lesbians or Homosexual social policy are then left to the States to decide, not POTUS.
 
The Supreme Courts job is to rule on the Constitutionality of Laws that emanate from Congress.  Supreme Court is a check on Congress not overstepping its limited authority.  
 
__________
 
Not even conservative constitutional originalists are willing to concede that the 14th Amendment and the attendant Incorporation Doctrine have obliterated the Constitution’s federal scheme, as expressed in the once-impregnable 10th Amendment.
 
What does this mean?
 
You know the drill but are always surprised anew by it. Voters pass a law under which a plurality wishes to live in a locality. Along comes a U.S. district judge and voids the law, citing a violation of the 14th’s Equal Protection Clause.
 
For example: Voters elect to prohibit local government from sanctioning gay marriage. A U.S. district judge voids voter-approved law for violating the 14th’s Equal Protection Clause.
 
These periodical contretemps around gay marriage, or the legal duty of private property owners to cater these events, are perfectly proper judicial activism. It flows from the 14th Amendment.
 
If the Bill of Rights was intended to place strict limits on federal power and protect individual and locality from the national government—the 14th Amendment effectively defeated that purpose by placing the power to enforce the Bill of Rights in federal hands, where it was never intended to be.
 
Put differently, matters previously subject to state jurisdiction have been pulled into the orbit of a judiciary. Yet not even conservative constitutional originalists are willing to cop to this constitutional fait accompli.
 
The gist of it: Jeffersonian constitutional thought is no longer in the Constitution; its revival unlikely.
 
Pardero Added Jun 11, 2018 - 12:48am
MEFOBILLS,
Really charming video. 
It just goes to show, that sometimes even ruthless dictators have to take a day off from trying to take over the world.
 
Dr. Rupert Green,
As  tempting as it would be, to actually have a government that could force citizens to perform services that they find morally repugnant, and counter to their religious views, I have to reluctantly say GOOD, because there is probably some limp-wristed cake decorator out there that can use the business. That damned pesky Constitution seems to always be in the way of proper PC enforcement.
Mustafa Kemal Added Jun 11, 2018 - 10:52am
Michael B, stimulating post. 
 
After some thought, Im pretty much sure I dont care. To me, its like asking what is a good artist, or a good cup of tea. That depends on alot.  That depends on who is drinking and where we are at.
 
Was Thomas Jefferson a good person? Such issues seem to come up these days, but again, I dont really care. I care more if the person is useful. And I think anyone who understands what he did would agree that he was useful. In that sense it was good to have him, really good.
 
Now, I do use the phrases such as "a good friend", "a good idea" but that really is more like superlative than a judgement on goodness. It also returns to this notion of useful. A good friend is useful, in some way or another. In that sense I try to be a good friend to many. It certainly has nothing to do with whether I am nice or not.
 
Mustafa
Neil Lock Added Jun 11, 2018 - 4:04pm
In my view, a good person - to a first approximation - is one who is peaceful unless attacked, honest to those who are themselves honest to him or her, respects the human rights of those who respect his or her human rights, and strives to be economically productive.
 
In summary: "Treat others at least as well as they treat you."
Katharine Otto Added Jun 12, 2018 - 11:03am
Ryan,
I can spot sycophants and obsequious types quickly.  They don't bring out my best qualities, unless you consider patience.  It's like work being around them.
 
Mustafa,
It is a matter of perspective, isn't it?  Thomas Jefferson and others of his time were doing the best they could, under the circumstances.  We can never know all the contingencies they faced.
Michael B. Added Jun 12, 2018 - 9:49pm
Thank you all for your very interesting and insightful comments. "Good" and "Bad" are obviously dynamic and subjective terms whenever they're applied to people, or anything else for that matter.