Thursday, July 10, 2014

The measure of a man

[Johnathan Clayborn]

Recently I've found myself asking what makes a person a "good person". Sure, the obvious answers are they have a sense of ethics and morals. But, ethical and moral codes are subjective and dependent entirely on the cultures and religions that define them. What is considered perfectly ethical one in culture is not ethical in another culture. But, beyond that, what makes a person a good person? Are there universal traits that make a person "good"?

Respect for other people is probably one trait that I would mark highly on the list of a good person. Do they treat people equally and fairly in all situations? Do they think themselves equal to everyone or do they see themselves as superior to others? Do they treat service staff like human beings instead of servants? Do they treat everyone with the respect and dignity that they deserve, or they think that they own other people directly or indirectly?

Falling right along those lines similarly is compassion. Do they have compassion for others? Are they likely to give up their last $5 so that  someone starving and homeless on the street  can get some food, or are they likely to walk past saying that they deserve it? Do they protect those who are weaker than they are, or do they prey on them?

What about integrity? Is this a mandate of a good person? Many would argue, Yes. I would be inclined to agree with them. In it's most basic form integrity means doing what you say that you are going to do and doing the right thing even when no one is looking. It means being able to live with yourself after all is said and done.

What about selflessness? I would argue yes again here as well. are they willing to go out of their way to help others? Are they willing to help others at all? Would they park at the top of a freeway off-ramp and walk 1/2 mile back down the hill to help some poor sap push their 1974 Cadillac up the hill in August in Phoenix asking for nothing in return, or would they continue to drive by? Would they spend $100 of their own money to buy wooden cross necklaces for the homeless just to give them a glimmer of hope, or do they think that homeless people should have to work for everything that they need too?

What about community improvement/civic duty? Are they requirements for a good person? Do they volunteer in things that make not just their own lives better, but increase the betterment of the whole neighborhood? Is that a requirement for a good person, or does that play a factor at all?

If these general codes are the essence of a good person, how much margin of error is a person, a human being, allowed before they go from being a good person to a bad person? Is it one strike and you're suddenly a bad person? By this criteria I hit every single mark of a good person on this list. So that makes me a good person, right? But what I've lied? What if I've made mistakes? what if I had allowed myself to develop a bad behavior due to an intense emotional stimulus? Am I still a good person then, or does that mistake overwrite all of the good that's within me?

When we judge other people we should take care not judge people by their behaviors alone, but by the entirety of their character and their intent and motivations for those behaviors. Someone very dear to me told me that they didn't believe that people can change. I think that for the most part this is true, but with a critically important caveat; a person's nature cannot change, but a person's behavior can. If a person is self-absorbed and is only interested in getting what they can for themselves, then they will not likely change that nature save for an act of divine intervention. However, if a person has developed a bad habit, a bad behavior, or something about them that is otherwise negative we should take care to ask ourselves if the cause for this behavior can be removed or changed, or if we are going to discard all of the positive traits that a person has because of a temporary situation. Addicts of all sorts successfully go through rehabilitation programs all of the time. They are usually good people who are in a bad spot. But, someone saw enough good in them to help them through their situation and give them a different set of behaviors, a way to change their pattern and their stimulus that drives that behavior. Shouldn't we afford that same chance to everyone? Shouldn't everyone be given a second chance to demonstrate that they have the propensity to change, and that they can go from being good people to wonderfully amazing people? At what point are people resigned to their sins and deemed hopeless?

Much adverse human behavior is predicated by one solitary emotion: fear. What each of us fears is different, but fear compels us to act in strange ways that are outside of our normal character and pattern of behavior. A very good friend of mine once told me that fear is nothing but "False Emotions Appearing Real". I really wish I had remembered that advice sooner, but I can tell you from experience that fear can cast a pretty intensive and realistic hallucination on your mind if you let it and in the process you can ruin the best things that have ever happened to you and the things that matter most in life. If you find yourself stuck in a situation of inaction as I was, or overly nervous about doing something, like forgiving, trusting, or making a change in your life, ask yourself what is it that you are truly afraid of. Dig deep, find the cause, and wipe it out. Fear has never done anything good for anyone and only serves to allow many of the best things to become tarnished, broken, or lost completely. Don't let the wonderful people in your life slip away because of fear. That is a regret that you will have forever because, sadly, there was no real reason for it in the first place.

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These blogs represent my thoughts, ideas and opinions. They may be different from yours. You may not agree with them. While I do enjoy a good, polite debate on a topic (where points are countered with other points based on logic, reason and fact), I do not enjoy an argument (where you tell me that I am wrong simply because you disagree and cannot offer any reasons to support your position). I am very respectful of others, and I expect everyone on here to be respectful in return, not only to me, but to each other as well. Disrespectful posts will be deleted automatically. Feel free to share your ideas, but keep it civil, please.