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MissAnthrope's avatar

What defines a "good person"?

Asked by MissAnthrope (21460points) April 23rd, 2011

What makes a person “good”?

Is a person “good” if they never have bad thoughts? They don’t wish ill on others, don’t have uncharitable thoughts, don’t judge others, do not harm others, avoid negativity, etc..


Is it impossible to expect people to be that pure of thought and deed? Is “goodness” the act of doing good despite not being pure of thought?

For example, if I see a wad of cash sitting around and I have the thought ’I could totally pick that up and pocket it and no one would be the wiser’, obviously, that’s not good.

But.. if then my conscience steps in and says, ’No, that’s terrible! Terrible. You should be embarrassed for even considering it!

Does that redeem my bad thought? Is that goodness in action, defeating bad/selfishness? Am I a bad person for considering stealing, even if only for a moment? Can a person be “good” and still have these kinds of “bad” thoughts?

Basically, is “good” the absence of bad thoughts or is it continuing to stay on the path of good despite bad thoughts?

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23 Answers

janbb's avatar

Oh – I suspect even Jesus, Mother Theresa and Albert Schweitzer had bad thoughts; being good is in the doing, not the mind. I am so glad people can’t see inside my brain, but I consider myself a basically good person..

MissAnthrope's avatar

Well, the reason I ask this, the subject of much pondering for the past 10 years or so, is that in Wicca, we believe in the Threefold Law. Essentially, the energy you put out in thought, word, and deed will come back to you threefold. I’m not trying to get into a religious debate, so we’ll just say that this is ample incentive to try to keep things positive in your life. You do bad, you get bad back. You do good, you get good back.

I just struggle with it because while I’m a fairly positive person.. or at least, I try to find the silver lining in every cloud and to treat people well and whatnot.. but I can’t rid myself of the uncharitable thoughts, the jealousy, and the other negative thinking. So, I can’t help feeling a bit disappointed in myself that I’m not a better person, at least in my thoughts. But then I go, that’s so silly because no one is that kind of saint!

Anyway, I have to go to work, I’ll be back later once everyone wakes up. :P

knitfroggy's avatar

To me, a good person is someone who is kind to everyone and doesn’t judge.

seazen_'s avatar

My aunt is a good person.

A good person will go to heaven, and doesn’t even care. They are that good.

Seelix's avatar

I think I’m a good person, though I can’t say that my thoughts are always good.

I’m kind to people and animals, I help others when I can, I don’t deliberately do harm to others.

But yeah, I judge people in my mind. I’m not proud of that fact, but I do it. I think it’s pretty rare to be able to actually “control” your thoughts, so I don’t worry about whether it makes me a bad person or not to think that someone looks like an idiot wearing the latest stupid trend.

CaptainHarley's avatar

A good person realizes that it’s human nature to succumb to temptation periodically, to recognize this in themselves, and to ask forgiveness and make restitution when they have been less than good. A good person treats others as they would prefer to be treated themselves. And a good person respects God and God’s creation.

john65pennington's avatar

The human thought process is like a voting machine. You have most of the facts, in a particular situation, and now its time to vote. Do I vote yes to pick up that wad of money and spend it because you need to or do you vote no… can pick it up, but you will turn it over to the police. Its the devil versus an angel.

This is where the difference lies between a “good person” and not so “good person”.

How many of us would take the money and run and how many of us would call the police?

Kayak8's avatar

I think we all have a variety of thoughts upon which we could put labels that imply judgement (good thoughts, bad thoughts, etc.), but I think our actions are what demonstrate our goodness. The ability to think the bad thought but engage in Right Action is implicit in the human struggle.

While thinking good thoughts might (energetically) attract good, it is not always possible to have only good thoughts, but I think we can demonstrate right action even by the words we choose to use to describe our thoughts. For example, I have a friend who is somewhat frustrated by being unable to sell her house. Although frustrated inside, she is very careful to word her experience in a positive (good) way. For example, with her words, she says things like, “when my house sells” rather than “if my house sells.” Her actions include looking at other houses, organizing and packing, etc. All things that would indicate to the “universe” that a move is impending.

I think your example of finding the money and “gut-checking” yourself to know the right action is part of the experience. For example, I typically would not steal, but when I read of people who have been held captive (think concentration camp) and who have no choice but to steal (e.g., food, medicine), what is “right” or “good” can change dramatically. The challenge then, is to correctly read the situation and assess “rightness” or “goodness” in the appropriate context.

This is the source of a great deal of human conflict. The daily newspaper is full of stories of those who say “stealing is wrong” and others who say, “but you have to understand the context in which I stole.”

The whole point of Courts is to give an opportunity to share the context and see if others agree that the act was “good” or “bad.” The purpose of the Law (civil, religious, etc.) is to help tell people what is deemed “good” or “bad” before they engage in right or wrong action. Sometimes, these Laws (think Taliban and Afghanistan and the plight of women) tell you how to avoid punishment for “wrong” action, but the Law itself can be flawed, so people make other choices just to survive (e.g., fleeing a place, stealing food, doing what is required to move things to a place where one can do what is good or just).

lemming's avatar

I think being good or not good is a choice you make in childhood, but maybe you can change if you want, I don’t know. I think your second definition of goodness is the most likely one, choosing to do good despite the bad thoughts. In fact maybe you are more good to resist your temptations rather than being so brain dead and mindless to even consider doing something that your parents or whoever consider bad. Your free-er of thought and make the choice yourself. Good question :)

wundayatta's avatar

Is being selfish always bad? If you choose yourself over other people you have obligations to or implied obligations, is that always bad? Should you live your life in misery in order to fulfill your duty? Or is it worse for you to be miserable than it is for you to do your duty, only not as well?

I think of myself as a good person. I love helping people. I care. I always try to do my best for others. But there are times when I am miserable, and happiness is at hand, except it will hurt people I love.

Good and bad are not always easy to determine. Some would say that they are constructs in our heads, but they don’t really exist. We make them up.

Should we always sacrifice our own good for that of others? It seems to me that that is the general consensus. When should you take your own pleasure? Maybe when you can meet your obligations and be happy, too.

laineybug's avatar

I think that being a good person is being able to have the bad thoughts, but not act upon them. Like @wundayatta said, you shouldn’t make yourself miserable to please others though.
You can be helpful to the community and others sometimes, but you should also be good to yourself. Being a “good person” means being good to yourself and others at times.

the100thmonkey's avatar

I suspect that the definition of “good” is what this question is about. “Good” depends, to a large extent, on the person applying the predicate.

What makes a person “good”? The standards of the communities they are a member of.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

To me it’s a person who by my standards does as little harm as possible while doing in the best interest of themselves and those they care about.

beckk's avatar

A “good” person, in my opinion, is a person who has others’ best interest in mind. They will sacrafice their own happiness for others. Just because someone thinks bad thoughts doesn’t mean they are a “bad” person. Let’s face it, we all have bad thoughts. If those thoughts determined if we were a “good” person or a “bad” person then I don’t think anyone could be considered good.

tinyfaery's avatar

There are no good or bad people, only good or bad actions. And, of course, we know good and bad are not fixed ideas, but a manner of perspective.

A good person, I guess, is someone who does good deeds, as defined by the most amount of people. But, really, that means very little.

JLeslie's avatar

Although everyone has bad thoughts at times, I do think some people are more good than others. It is not just in the actions one does in my opinion. It also is not as simple as being born good or bad, environment seems to play a role.

Most people I know want to help others, are compassionate towards other people, never would think to physically hurt someone else, except in an extreme circumstance, prefer to live their life in an honest way. I saw a show with a woman who was living a life of doing nothing but getting in trouble. She became pregnant for the 5th time, and was panning her 5th abortion. She was still very young at the time, had been in other sorts of trouble. Her boss had asked her to come to church with her several times before, and now with this pregnancy she asked again. I honestly don’t remember if she had the abortion or not, but eventually she went to church, became a Christian, and eventually became a successful journalist. She believes her relationship with Jesus changed her life. But, the thing that also stuck with me was she said her beliefs help her to choose to do the right thing every day. I think most of the good people I know don’t daily have to decide not to be horrible and evil. I am glad this woman behaves well in society now, but not sure I really like what her first intinct is.

MissAnthrope's avatar

Well, okay. I feel a bit better knowing that I have impossibly high standards for myself rather than being a failure. :)

I try to imagine how people like Mother Teresa and Gandhi thought and I’ve always figured that they must, too, have had their share of uncharitable thoughts. I guess I just wish that I could be constantly positive, naturally, instead of having to fight back the negative. But I guess that’s the human condition, eh?

Blondesjon's avatar

A good person = not a bad person.

The rest is all subjective.

Ladymia69's avatar

@MissAnthrope Mother Theresa was highly flawed. Read “Mother Theresa: Beyond the Image” by Anne Sebba. And Ghandi battled racist thoughts and pedophilia in his mind. No good person is without their scars or flaws, and one who looks like a really good person may often be rotten inside.

mazingerz88's avatar

A person who thinks of bad things what with all the exposure to negative events out there completely bombarding us is not a bad person for as long as he or she does not in reality do bad things. I think a person who has all the reason to be bad for whatever reason but succeeds in being a good person nonetheless is more awesome than an innocent who is naturally good.

gussaviour's avatar

his deeds and attitude ?

ISmart's avatar

compassion, good heart, caring, selfless

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