What Exactly Makes a Person âGood?â<br />

What Exactly Makes a Person “Good?”

As he attempts to define “good” and “bad,” Damon Young realizes he may not be the person he thought he was

Damon Young

by Damon Young, November 20, 2012

What Exactly Makes a Person âGood?â<br />

To say that distinguishing between "good person" and "bad person" is a completely arbitrary process seems like a cop out --- basically something a person who wanted to be considered a good person without doing "good' things would say. A person is nothing but a sum of their (to a lesser extent) thoughts, motives, and (to a greater extent) actions, and since some actions are unconditionally "good" (ie: donating food to the hungry) while others are unconditionally "bad" (ie; murdering infants), it stands to reason that a "good" person is just a person who does good things, while bad people are bad because of the bad things they do. Yet, these definitions disregard context, and context brings nuance, and nuance --  well, how we process nuance --- is arbitrary. 

For instance, regardless of whether you agree with his policies or even his importance, I think most (sane) people would agree that Barack Obama seems to be a pretty "good' person. Obviously, we do not know everything about this man, but from all appearances he seems to be a loving and supportive husband, a doting father, a compassionate citizen, and an overall nice guy --- all marks of "good" people. Yet, as president, Obama has authorized the use of drone attacks, drone attacks that (occasionally) kill infants --- tragic but "necessary" collateral damage. And, as mentioned earlier, infanticide is an unconditionally bad thing.

Now, I'm not bringing this up to criticize our president. Considering the weight of the legal, financial, sociological, and moral albatrosses he's forced to wrestle, at the very least he's the most underpaid person on Earth (By far). I'm more interested in trying to determine the "goodness" or "badness" of a person a bit closer to me: Me.

To wit, I believe that I am a good person. In fact, most of the decisions I make in regards to myself and how I assess other people are directly connected to this perception of goodness. I have no problem being judgmental and critical because I'm confident my goodness would enable me to withstand the same scrutiny. Where's the evidence of this goodness? Well, I've never done anything terribly (and intentionally) bad. And, the few "bad" things I've done --- shoplifted, smoked weed, slept with someone's girl. etc ---  haven't been so bad that I couldn't somehow rationalize them.

As I've grown older, though, my belief in my inherent goodness has taken a bit of a hit. I initially chalked this up to a nuance-less definition of "good." "No one is perfect," I reminded myself "but as long as you remain kind hearted, you'll remain good." But, I can't help but ask if can I continue to call myself "good' if I have to continuously alter the definition of good in order to do it. If there are reasonably established standards of good and bad --- and, there are, trust me --- at some point a line distinguishing between the two needs drawn. I, like all other people, have some "good" and some "bad" in me. But, also like all other people, I have more of one than the other, and I'm finding that those easy to rationalize actions are getting less easy to rationalize and my "good' actions seem to be more about fearing the consequences of being "bad" than any inherent reservoir of goodness.

Does this make me a good or bad person? I don't know. Seems like a cop out answer, but, well, that's kind of the point.

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