Life lessons

What makes a ‘good’ person?

Last week, I read a post by Restless about the definition of a ‘good girl’ which prompted me to start an in-depth discussion on the same with R over the weekend. And that led to some interesting questions and thoughts which sowed the seeds for this post.What makes a good person? How would you define a person as ‘good’?

If a person swears often due to express their frustration, does that make them a bad person?

If a person drinks a lot, does that make them a bad person?

If a person smokes like a chimney, does that make them a bad person?

If a person has casual sex and flings with willing partners, does that mean they are a bad person?

Anyway, I kinda came to the conclusion that none of the above matters. A good person is one who lives their life honestly according to their values (whatever they may be) without intentionally harming others.

Sounds straightforward, doesn’t it?

Do most of you agree with me till now?

So by that definition of a good person, a person who murders another human being is a bad person. Right?

But…

If a person murders somebody to save someone else, does that mean they are really a bad person? Just as an example, a parent who finds out their child was being sexually abused by the neighbour plans and intentionally kills the paedophile, thus saving their child and other children from being victimised further. [Please note…I’m not condoning taking the law in your own hands. It’s just a hypothetical]

Is this parent a bad person??

Yes, killing somebody is not good. Morally or legally. Hence, they engaged in a bad act. But does that necessarily make them a bad person? 

Similarly, what about a woman who has been abused for years by her husband and ends up killing him one day as that is the only means of escape? Surely this is not a bad person, is it? And what about a juvenile who assaults someone once but later on goes on to be a model citizen as an adult? Is this a bad person?

Based on these examples, I was again stumped as my definition of a good person didn’t seem to hold up anymore.

However, I did come to one conclusion. You cannot judge whether a person is good or bad based solely on their behaviours within a certain period of time. You would have to know the motives behind their behaviours. You would have to look at their behaviours over a large period of time…even their lifetime, if possible.

In the end, the best I could think of was a good person is one who lives a genuine life according to their personal values [which do not have to be congruent with the cultural values!], whatever they may be. Behaviour is not necessarily the best way to evaluate the goodness or badness of an individual as we probably only see part of the picture.

The values are within the person…and while they are displayed via their behaviours, not all behaviours may be perceived as being good despite a good motivation behind it.

So what do you think?

What makes a good person?  

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

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  • Pesto Sauce
    6 February 2011 at 11:28 am

    Mankind has often wondered what is good and what is bad, but I agree that someone who lives by some values can be good

  • pallavi
    6 February 2011 at 11:41 am

    Oooh I’m quite stumped. So ‘good person’ isn’t that simple or straight forward, isnt it? Infact now that I think about it, what may appear ‘good’ to you may appear ‘bad’ to me. That way, the person is not good or bad, but our experience with them is!! I guess in the larger scheme of things, nothing really matters.

  • aKi
    6 February 2011 at 12:49 pm

    Nothing is absolutely good or bad. It’s always subjected to certain context, certain time and certain place that makes it good or bad. Further, it’s always a perception and everyone might have a different perspective.
    If we talk legally, there are standard laws laid by the country and that acts as reference. If we talk morally, your society and the culture judges you on some unsaid parameters. But as an individual, it’s us to decide if our actions are good or bad. As far as I understooD life (I am sure there is a lot more), If you can answer yourself at the end of the day, you are right. That’s what matters.

  • Prats
    7 February 2011 at 6:14 am

    I think Good & Bad are just relative… I mean Someone who smokes is not a bad person..but then from another person’s point of view the same person is polluting the air he breathes making him a bad person. I believe its all in the mind and its all relative. The bit about the law, law is something conjured by the society to maintain and order in chaos and the problem with judging good or bad by legality is that the law and legality changes with time and place. Pre 1930 making salt out of Sea Water in India was illegal and today it is not. Similarly consuming and carrying Beetle nuts in India is not illegal however, the same is a punishable offence in Dubai. I don’t know the answer to the question of good or bad, I just know it’s debatable 🙂

  • Swaram
    7 February 2011 at 6:42 am

    Interesting!
    I would not judge a person as good or bad on their smoking, drinking and other attributes atleast. Well, I also think one bad deed cannot make a person bad – am not talking about big things like murder, but have seen many a times where a person is great in donning one role but is not the same on the other fronts. Most times, people judge a girl as a bad one if she does not get along with her in-laws. This is a very common example where I feel like yelling out to people ‘She might not be getting along with them, there might be something to sort out, but she is not a bad girl for heaven’s sake’!!!!!!!!!

  • Titaxy
    7 February 2011 at 2:51 pm

    It’s all relative. Everybody has their own scale of deciding what they think are good and bad, I guess. And that scale as might be their values, as you say.

  • Celestialrays
    8 February 2011 at 2:16 pm

    We all are shades of grey aren’t we?

    PS: I cant comment on your blog if i open it on my mobile 🙁

  • Jake
    10 February 2011 at 11:36 am

    This is probably the biggest gray area that is there out there. I used to think that there are universal good/bad deeds , you know ….certain things
    that ALL of us can categorise as good or bad regardless of what religion you follow or where you are from. So for example murder due to a dis-agreement in my view was always wrong, it dose not matter if someone else can’t agree with me , why does she/he have to to start with. But there are people who can completly justify it

    Take this incident for example

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-12388801

    The father killed his own daughter because she was too western, apparently
    he did not want her leading a western life. Most of us would catogorise this
    guy as not just a ‘bad’ person but pure EVIL walking on the face of the planet.

    But after the anger subsides when I start thinking about it, I get even more
    terrified. The reality is that this guy does not feel a hint of regret, he BELIEVES
    what he did is right. And THAT is even more frightening, in the 21st century
    when theres more immigration than ever, if we are going to live together we need at least a few basic rules, deeds that we can agree on as good/bad. The problem is that simply does not exist.

  • soulmate
    10 February 2011 at 4:18 pm

    its a tricky one… who may seem to be a good person to me, may not seem the same to you..

  • Psych Babbler
    11 February 2011 at 3:50 am

    It’s a very debatable topic since time immemorial, isn’t it Pesto? The closest bet would be someone living by their values but some of the other comments still make you question that aspect too… =S

  • Psych Babbler
    11 February 2011 at 5:49 am

    Exactly Pal…it’s a very debatable thing…and very relative I think as some people have mentioned. I agree that in the larger scheme of things, doesn’t really matter…after all, when we die, I guess we need to be satisfied with our own lives…and judge for ourselves whether we have been ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

  • Psych Babbler
    11 February 2011 at 6:13 am

    Welcome to this space Aki! I do agree that at the end of the day, we are the ones who decide whether what we have done is good or bad…and whether we are so… thanks for the insightful comment! =) Keep visiting…

  • Psych Babbler
    11 February 2011 at 7:54 am

    You’re right…it’s definitely a debatable topic…but again, should we be quick to judge a person based on certain behaviours alone? Like the smoking…may be a bad action…but is the person bad? Swearing…may be a bad action for some…but is the person bad? Just wondering… =)

  • Psych Babbler
    11 February 2011 at 8:36 am

    Yeah…we are quick to paint a person good or bad based on a few actions aren’t we? When in fact, it could be a good or bad action or an action which someone might approve or disapprove…so with the example you gave…some people would disapprove of those actions but it doesn’t make her a bad girl!

  • Psych Babbler
    11 February 2011 at 8:37 am

    Yep…guess there’s no real one standard to determine who is good or bad. Although I reckon most of us would agree a psychopath is bad! =)

  • Psych Babbler
    11 February 2011 at 8:40 am

    Yep…no one’s perfect Rays! I’ll try and check out if Disqus has any mobile settings…not sure because I don’t think anyone else has tried commenting with a mobile…

  • Psych Babbler
    11 February 2011 at 8:47 am

    People like that are scary…their whole world view of right and wrong is skewed based on ungrounded tradition and beliefs…does that make them bad? Don’t know. Crazy? Yes. Doing something illgal? Definitely!!! I guess thankfully, despite not being able to agree on good and bad, we still have legal and illegal…that’s clearly defined by laws at least in the democratic countries. If only it could permeate in the fanatical fundamentalist countries, we’d all be a lot better off. Not sure if I made sense there…but thanks for the insightful comment Jake!

  • Psych Babbler
    11 February 2011 at 8:48 am

    True…but is it their actions we don’t agree on or them as a person??

  • Jake
    11 February 2011 at 12:33 pm

    Yeah you did, but psych the problem is at the end of the day the “legal/illegal” tag is not going to stop people from going forward with an atrocious act. And moreover whats the point when like you said its not an act like that would not be considered illegal in one of those fundamentalist countries. There’s no way in hell we can establish an international law cuz like you said it all comes down to culture and tradition. That’s what scares me , the sad part is people just can’t seem to see beyond religion and traditional briefs, guess its one of the curses of human nature, emotion is often stronger than reason

  • Psych Babbler
    15 February 2011 at 9:13 am

    True…we can never stop the acts from happening…no society can. But I guess in a particular society, a person like that may still be considered good…

    We could get into a whole other post/discussion with the issues of tradition and religion…religion is the bane of humankind according to me…

  • Priya
    21 February 2011 at 5:21 am

    ‘Good’ or ‘bad’ is subjective, totally agreed. One action cannot make a person good or bad. But, you cannot live in a society without defining certain actions ‘good’ or ‘bad’ actions, irrespective of the motive behind them. A person is ‘bad’ if he kills another person, irrespective of what that person did to him before. Killing someone who hurts you doesn’t keep you good, maybe just a little less worse than the person you killed. But that is it. If you let each person decide his own definitions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and let him live according to it, the society won’t survive. Even in packs of animals, it doesn’t work this way. There are certain moral grounds that everyone should follow, whether they accept them or not!

  • Psych Babbler
    21 February 2011 at 10:04 am

    Welcome to this space Priya! I hear what you are saying but I guess what I am wondering is whether something morally right or wrong determines the goodness or badness of a person…after all, not all societies have the same morals. For that matter, even what’s legally right or wrong can differ from one society to the next and thereby cannot determine universally whether someone is good or bad just based on that…

    Hehe…just wondering…I am not sure either… =)

  • Deepthi
    12 June 2011 at 4:17 pm

    I definetly agree with you…A person’s behaviour depends solely on the circumstances he/she faces,the surrondings in which they were brought up…While I was reading your post,I could’nt help remembering Scrooge’s character from ‘Christmas Carol’…There Scrooge  faces poverty in his childhood,some how it makes a deep impression on him and he feels that only money matters in life..leading him to break his relationship with almost everyone….later he changes and realises his mistakes…

    Yeah  person is good if he listens to his heart and does what appears to be logical to him..

  • Psych Babbler
    12 June 2011 at 4:37 pm

    Welcome here Deepthi! I do remember Scrooge from A Christmas Carol…it was
    a great story in terms of a message for us all. Keep visiting… 🙂