We often hear someone comment about another being a “good person”. Sometimes this is said in spite of evidence that this person may have done something seriously wrong, as if that action was out of character. Other times this is used to eulogize someone by summarizing their life as basically good.
I think the designation of “good person” is often used in the same manner as labeling someone “nice”. I knew someone whose catch-phrase was “Be nice like me”. What I learned from her, however, was that it was totally possible to be “nice” while also being very self-centered and manipulative. The term “nice” seems to me more about being socially acceptable. It includes manners and respect and courtesy, but also conforming to whatever society or a particular group determines is acceptable behavior. It is really about pleasing people so that they will approve of you.
Defining a Good Person
It is impossible to define a “good” person without considering the opposite, for there must be opposition in all things for anything to exist. There are people who have been labeled “not a good person” because of things they have said or done, often based on limited understanding. Some are even considered totally corrupt or even evil.
If “good” is defined by social rules, then a rule-breaker would be “not good”. Over recent decades, such definitions of socially acceptable behavior have changed drastically. So must “good” be determined by the current social rules, or can someone be considered “good” by adhering to past norms, which might not be accepted as so good by some now? Another problem with liberal moral relativism is the attempt to see all possible behaviors and lifestyle choices as equally good. According to this position the only really bad thing is judging another’s choice as bad. Doesn’t pointing out that someone has judged another to be bad, actually put that person into the “bad” category themselves? Is is possible to hold people accountable for bad behavior without labeling them a bad person?
If “good” is defined by choices, actions and character traits, then there must be a determination of what behavior is good and acceptable and what is not. This is best done with firm, set moral standards of right and wrong, good and bad, rather than societal norms that shift with time, place or group. In other words, there must be absolute truth and eternal and unchanging laws, to determine good from bad.
We need to remember that we all started out as a “good person”. We were not only pure, innocent infants, but also spirit children of deity. We are all inherently good. What makes some not good, is personal choices and actions. In the Book of Mormon when Alma led a missionary effort to the wicked Zoramites, he prayed for them, affirming that even with all their sins “their souls are precious.” (Alma 31:35)
The Perfect Example of Goodness
The ultimate example of a “good person” is Jesus Christ. We can look to His life as an example. But we must be careful not to simply focus on His being loving, as some have done to imply that He would be accepting of any behavior or choices. Christ’s character was much deeper than that. He was and is an all-knowing, wise and just judge. The Pharisees and Sadducees were “nice,” even “righteous,” according to the social rules of their day, yet Jesus saw their hearts and declared their hypocrisy. Jesus was perfectly obedient to all of the commandments of His Father – the standard of truth, right and goodness. Jesus was good because He was righteous, not simply because He was loving, and certainly not because he was “nice” and pleased everyone.
Trying to be like Jesus, is what we can do to become a “good person”. This should be our goal and our personal standard, even though we fall short. Our efforts and concerns about goodness should be best focused on ourselves. Because we cannot see into the hearts of others, it is best to see them as basically good people, remembering that they too are beloved children of our Heavenly Father.