When we’re kids, we believe that stealing is bad. As we get a little older, we think that, under inescapable circumstances, it might be okay to steal. When we become experienced adults, we think that “we try our best, and that’s all we can really hope for.” So, the question at the end of the day is what really is a “good” person? Does such a thing exist?
The golden rule states “Treat others as you would like them to treat you.” This, in the end, is infact what caring boils down to. But, it’s hard to view others the same as you view yourself. When a person complains that a failed toaster ruined their day, it’s hard not to get irritated by their “drama-mongering” and “negativity.” But, when it’s you whose day is ruined by a failed toaster, you are suddenly able to see that trivial setbacks can be quite disheartening when nothing else is going your way. Practically, caring the way the golden rule suggests, comes down to forgiveness and sacrifice. When you make the decision to forgive people for complaining about “non-issues”, in time, you naturally learn to consider their perspective. When you sacrifice your needs for someone else’s even when it makes you unhappy or dissatisfied, again, in time, you naturally learn to consider their perspective. Now, forgiveness is not the same as being a push-over. For example, when someone picks on you, you don’t have to not fight back out of forgiveness. You can fight back and stop them from picking on you, but also remain friends with them despite their intentions to pick on you. Similarly, sacrifice doesn’t have to mean that you dance to other people’s tunes. If you don’t like shopping and your friend wants you to go shopping with them, then deciding to go shopping with them is a sacrifice. But if you are too tired to shop, and your friend is upset that you won’t go shopping with them, then deciding to go shopping with them is not a sacrifice. It’s just torturing yourself. Forgiveness and sacrifice amounts to caring. The more the better. That’s what builds the instict to care, in practice. But it’s important to know one’s limitations, and not go to the extent of bodily abuse in the name of forgiveness and sacrifice (unless, of course, it is absolutely necessary).
Giving due credit when offering criticism
Is there ever a good reason to judge? I once told a friend of mine to do things for other people from time to time. I wanted to genuinely help him, because all his problems were social. I had determined that he was too selfish, and he needed to let go of his own needs and make it about the other person from time to time. Again, this was a genuine attempt on my part to help him. But this friend — he didn’t see it that way. He thought I was judging him. People often cannot distinguish between constructive criticism and judgment. But, perhaps, this is because we give out criticism without acknowledging any progress. If I had told this friend of mine that “I appreciate the fact that you are talking about your social issues. It shows that you are willing to take steps to fix them” and then gone on to point out his selfishness, then he would have listened. He would not have taken it as judgment. So, all said and done, there are several times when there is actually a very good reason to form a judgment. But there is never a good reason to met out judgment without also giving due credit.
Respect for individuality
This is a mistake we often make even when we mean well. We may have the very best of intentions, but that won’t matter if we don’t give due regard to the person’s individuality.
Sudha asked her friend the following questions:
“How can you complain about the toaster when there are so many people who do not have access to food and water?”
“How can you not care about the environment, when global temperatures are soaring?”
“How can you want to serve your husband and not want anything for yourself?”
These questions have very good intentions behind them. But here Sudha is trying to make her friend like herself. Her friend could ask:
“Why do assume that everyone cares about the same things as you? Why can’t I be upset about the toaster just because you don’t get upset about it?”
“Why do you assume that everybody cares for global temperatures the same as you do?”
“Why can’t I do what makes me happy? Making my husband happy makes me happy. It doesn’t have to be what makes you happy. But it makes me happy.”
If you impose yourself on another person, try to make that person you, and not allow that person to be themselves, then it doesn’t matter how good your intentions are. There must be respect for individuality.
“Look, I understand that global temperatures may not be important to you. But here is some science that shows why you should be concerned. So please help out. We’ll all be better off for it.” Here, there is respect for individuality, and with such a marginal modification. That’s all it takes.
Hope and responsibility
If someone becomes a drug addict because of terrible parenting, then they’ll definitely blame the parents. It’s not your fault if your life is messed up by other people. But, if you choose not to do anything about the mess, isn’t that on you? Fault vs responsibility. That’s the distinction. Accepting responsibility to do something about a mess is not the same as accepting the fault for the mess. As for hope, it is one of the hardest things ever when it exists only in theory. Take a long-time drug addict for example. This person’s hope for a day when the drug won’t have any effect on them is a purely theoretical possibility. They will have to go for months, maybe even years, without seeing any semblance of a result. In the end, even if a person does accept responsibility for a mess, there is no telling whether they can hold on to a purely theoretical hope. In such an event, it helps tremendously to have people around, loved ones, to keep you on track. It also helps to set other life goals, goals for which you can see the results without having to wait for months or years.
Weathering bad moods
We all know what it’s like to be in a bad mood. Bad moods happen. It’s human nature. Nothing anyone can do about it. Sometimes, people may say or do harsh things simply because they are in a bad mood. As long as the negativity doesn’t persist or cause severe damage, it’s okay. The bad mood will pass.
In summary, we can say that theoretically, there is no objective concept of a good person. But practically, there are things that separate people who are perceived as good from those who are not. Practically, being “good” is about caring, giving due credit when offering criticism, respect for individuality, hope and responsibility and weathering bad moods.
Thank you for reading.
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