My past few blogs have been about traveling and writing, but I’m not just here to blather about that. I want to write about life, too. One question that always comes up in my mind is this: What does it mean to be a good person? I think this is a valid subject to discuss, since so many folks make being an idiot an art form these days. Did you ever notice how many posts there are about animals on social media? Makes me wonder if human beings have turned to our furry friends for comfort because fellow humans are so darn hard to deal with, and getting harder.
I hear it all the time: “She’s/He’s a good person.” Okay, but why? Because they give money to charity or the homeless? Because they do volunteer work? Because they take care of the disabled and/or elderly? Because they go to church? It’s easy to assume goodness persists in those who partake in the aforementioned activities. And maybe some of these individuals are good people because they do these things. But I’m of the opinion that what people do on the outside isn’t all that makes them good. I’m also of the opinion that we are not inherently good, but that we can go either way, depending on our upbringing and how we choose to conduct our lives. Being a good person, finally, has little to do with money. Some of the kindest people I’ve met in my entire life had absolutely nothing to their names.
Here’s a disclaimer on that last thought: I’m a very big fan of Bill Gates. Yes, I think he’s amazing, and the things he’s done for humanity are equal, if not greater, than the fortune he’s built for himself. Bill and other people like him (Warren Buffet, Jeff Bezos,) are in the happy position of being billionaires even if they don’t do another thing for the rest of their lives. Therefore I feel like we really can’t call them greedy or self-centered. I’m not sure the Amazon guy has really found his footing as a humanitarian yet, so I wouldn’t put him in the same category of goodness as Gates, but he’s starting to emerge. Let’s see how he does.
Back to us regular folk, and the examples of presumed “goodness” that I give above. Are you good because you give to charity or the homeless? It depends on the thought behind it. Giving to charity is as easy as writing a check, or maybe pressing a button on a website. Anyone can do that. As for helping street people, let me share a little story that I’ll never forget. As a writer, I feel it’s my job to observe people. I’ve approached homeless individuals that appear willing and able to carry on a conversation. I met one such man, named Ron, on the street in Virginia Beach. I sat on the pavement and talked to him. Afterward I went back to my room, gathered up some food I had, and brought it back to him. While I was on the sidewalk with Ron, a guy came up and dropped a twenty in his lap. I asked him if I could talk to him for a minute, and I requested that he take the money and go buy Ron some food instead, as I knew he would probably spend it on something else. The guy looked at me and sneered, “I don’t have time for that!” and off he went. Was this fellow motivated by goodness…or guilt? Maybe a little of both. Either way, guilt is not a great emotion to lead with, or to prove your goodness by.
As for being a good person because someone takes care of the elderly or the disabled, as a teacher of special education I have had a lot of contact with service providers for people with special needs. I also have an elderly sister who is disabled. I can tell you with one hundred percent certainty that the mere fact that someone chooses to become a teacher, or a nurse, or a caretaker does not mean they are good. There are a lot of stressed out bad eggs in all the above careers. They do it for the money. Or the summers off. Or the insurance. Next time you’re in a nursing home or school observe people a little closer. You’ll see what I mean.
I’ve performed volunteer work in countries like India, Cambodia, and Poland. You would think that if someone is going to travel thousands of miles to teach kids English in the middle of a malarious jungle that they would be pretty good people? Actually, not true. I’ve met spoiled rich brats who spent more time on their cell phones at midnight with their boyfriends back in Salt Lake City, or twentysomethings looking for the nearest whiskey bar. Seriously, a lot of the volunteers I met were just using the programs as a way to get around the world. What a disappointment.
Don’t even get me going on the church thing. Going to church does not make you a good person.
What does? Well, for starters, be nice to people. Whether you’re in your car, or walking in the mall, or dealing with a waitress that makes $3 an hour and counts on tips, be freaking NICE. It isn’t that hard. You don’t know what people are going through. You could make or break someone’s day just with your crappy, or your happy, attitude.
Be honest. There’s nothing worse than being lied to. Do you lie because it’s easier than telling the truth? Don’t. Honesty may hurt in the short run. Lies hurt in the long haul.
Take care of others while you take care of yourself. This one deserves its own post, which it will get in the future. Everyone should take care of themselves. But be sure to spread a little of that love outward.
Think before you speak or act. Who are you hurting to get your way? If you have to step on someone to get what you want, consider another way of doing it.
Learn how to apologize. In the age of “My bad,” learn or relearn “I’m sorry.” They have two different effects.
Accept differences. I spend my days listening to immature adults rank on others, and I’m not just talking about big issues like race, gender, and sexual preference. I’m referring to things like how someone dresses or what someone’s hair or skin or feet look like. In this case, sweat the small stuff. For everything you bash someone else for, you have a problem of your own to deal with. Why not focus on that? Why not turn the magnifying glass inward and fix the only person you have control over?
Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where every single person could follow these simple niceties? I’m dreaming of it right now and smiling.