What is a Good Person?

Someone told me recently that she was a “good person.” What does that mean?

It might be easier to define a “bad” person: a rapist, a murderer, a bank robber. These are all examples of “bad” people unless, of course, one ascribes to the theory that there are no bad people, only misguided ones or the psychological twister of “people aren’t bad, but some of their actions are bad.”

When I was a kid, it was common for parents of a child who, for example, threw a rock at another child, to say, “Bad girl, Susie!” As far as I know, Susie didn’t automatically believe that she was bad, but knew that what she’d done was certainly a bad thing. Suddenly, when my own kids were small, parents were told to rephrase that and to tell their child, “Susie, you did a bad thing!” Of course, many extrapolated that to mean they should also go on and on, ad finitum, about the bad thing and even ask Susie why she did it. News for them, Susie probably said, “I don’t know.” But I digress.

Most of us were taught that we shouldn’t do bad things. These included throwing the aforementioned rock at someone, stealing, lying, and so forth. And each of these examples could lead to other, worse, bad things.

The question is whether or not doing bad things makes us bad people, or whether we’re good people who sometimes do bad things.

One could, for instance, serve food to the homeless, save a baby bunny from a trap, or help pay someone’s medical bills—all evidence of a good person. But if this person also lies to people on a regular basis or over a long period of time, or is a closet bank robber, or once killed a man, then what? Do we dismiss his “good” in favor of the bad? Probably not entirely, but we likely wouldn’t trust him either.

On the other hand, do we dismiss his “bad” in favor of the good? Not likely, especially if his “bad” affected us personally. And this has little to do with forgiveness—one can forgive without actually forgetting the “bad” and yet continuing to be wary.

So what makes a “good” person?

A “good” person is someone who tells the truth, cares for others, helps when needed; a “good” person is someone you can trust, someone who lifts you up instead of putting you down, someone who is there when you need her.


2 comments on “What is a Good Person?

  1. Heather Gable says:

    I see that good people sometimes have grievous actions; some of these actions are unwittingly done and others are done on purpose. If something was done with malice, then maybe that person is a bad person who is just deceiving themselves.


    • Malice. Malice aforethought. Malicious intent. All good legal terms, which are somewhat diminished with an emotional aspect. Purposeful action, malicious or not, would fall under my personal “not a good person” definition. Deliberate action, while not necessarily malicious, would also be classified as “bad.”


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