What Makes You a Good or Not-So-Good Person.

It’s not always as obvious as we think.

image by Maria Teneva from Unsplash.com

This morning, I found the topic on my mind while reflecting on something mean and hurtful I said to someone recently who I love very much. Seeing the hurt on their face afterward was crushing for me. This experience re-drove the point and lesson home: we must be careful with words because they can wound deeply and they cannot be unsaid.

Then I found myself pondering thoughts on the idea of what makes someone a good person (or not).

Might the remark made to my loved one indicate that maybe I am not a kind-hearted person (as I have generally thought myself to be)? Plenty of people act friendly, warm, and nice, and yet, they are not really that nice in the deepest depths of their hearts. So maybe I am one of these people, I pondered worriedly.

Also, on a similar theme, merely because our intentions are “good” does not mean that we ourselves are good, so goes the famous saying (Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid is a case study on this one).

On the flip side, I then reflected on how shame-happy our culture has grown at the moment. The second that anyone in the limelight (or even outside of it too) makes even the slightest ignorant, insulting, or uncool remark, we rip them to shreds. Yes, when someone is ignorant or mean, it is often a good thing to speak up about this behavior. At the same time, we seem to have forgotten a sense of grace, the complex truth that ignorance does not automatically equal a bad person, and that good-hearted people can sometimes say a crappy and even hurtful thing.

And when we tear people apart for these mistakes. And most certainly, this sometimes includes good people who likely do feel remorse for their mistake and who do want to learn and become better people, and yet we miss the opportunity to educate them because instead, we shame, dismiss, and diminish them. Because they are a “horrible person” for making a verbal mishap or misstep.

In mulling over these ideas, my mind then went to the concept that good people will do some uncool and even crappy things in their lives. Why? Because they are human and humans are flawed. And because even the best of us have bad aspects of our personas. Simultaneously, plenty of bad people do good things, and seem friendly and cool to others, when the truth is that their hearts are not kind or good.

Thus, it isn’t always so cut and dry, so clean-cut, so black and white, as to whether someone is a “good person” to not, based on certain actions they display. Yes, some actions blatantly indicate a bad person (rape, abuse of animals or children, racism and bigotry, lacking empathy and kindness are a few examples). And then many others are a bit trickier.

As I asked myself different questions this morning, “what ifs” with regard to “does this make someone a bad person or not,” I found that the answers were not always easy.

For example, if someone lies, are they a bad person? Not necessarily. The details matter.

Is someone who cheats on their spouse automatically a bad person and partner? Again, not necessarily. And again, the details matter.

What if someone insults another person? They could be mean-hearted, or they could be deeply hurt themselves and be having a terrible moment. I think their reaction afterward is important. Do they give a heartfelt, true, and remorseful apology? Do they change their behavior for the better going forward? These are telling determinants.

If a couple has challenges, not rarely, not all the time, but somewhere in the middle, does this make them a mismatch or their relationship a “bad one.” Maybe. Maybe not. It depends on the nature of those challenges, and even more importantly, how they process through, discuss, and handle them. Both together and as individuals.

Is someone who makes a racist comment a terrible person? They might be. Or, they could be a well-meaning but ignorant person, one with still a decent heart and who could stand to learn more, and who has the potential to grow and become a better person.

Is someone who consistently tries to cause harm to one of their family members (and it can be emotional harm or physical harm) a terrible person? Probably.

Is someone who is arrogant and a bragger a crappy person? Maybe. They might not have the emotional capacity or space to have, say, empathy, care, or interest in others, in which case, possibly yes. Or, they might be deeply insecure, lonely, and yearn for connection with others and be unskilled in their approaches to try and get it.

So you see, within a few examples above, whether someone is a not-so-great person is often more nuanced than we may initially think.

Frequently, it takes careful thought, observation of patterns, and depends on their follow-up (meaning, how people act after they’ve made a big error) to help us determine this.

In the meantime, a little list of things that may indicate someone is not a great person…(aside from the obvious, like rape and abuse)

They do not feel significant remorse when they have caused another person to feel pain. And even further, they do not apologize, nor do they do anything to try and right the hurt and bad behavior.

This is a big one. Believe it or not, there are many people like this out there, and no, they are not all sociopaths. I have a couple of them in my family. People who do things that cause pain to their loved ones, and they might feel sort of bad about it briefly, but then they forget and move on to far more concerning things, like themselves and their own lives and problems. This is not a great person. This is a person majorly lacking in character.

They have little to no interest in the dreams, goals, fears, and experiences of their friends, family, romantic partner, and other loved ones

While this does not make someone inherently bad, it certainly isn’t good. People who feign a bit of interest, though in truth, could not really care less about the life experiences, passions, fears, interests, and ideas of the important people in their life are self-centered, closed off, and possibly even narcissistic.

In the words of Stephen Covey (author of The Seven Principles of Highly Effective People), what is important to the person you love must be as important to you as the other person is to you.

Covey tells an anecdote about a friend whose son developed an impassioned interest in baseball. His friend, the father of this boy, wasn’t interested in baseball at all. But one summer, he took his son to see every major league team play one game. The trip took over six weeks and cost a great deal of money, but it became a powerful bonding experience in their relationship.

His friend/the father was asked on his return from the trip, “do you like baseball that much?”

The man replied, “no, but I like my son that much.”

And that, my friends, is a powerful lesson with regards to people of great character and those who have good hearts.

They rarely to never apologize

This is a major red flag. It indicates a significant disinterest in coming toward people they love. It implies a sense of pride and narcissism, a self-righteousness that they never have anything to say sorry for anyway. It symbolizes an emotional immaturity and lack of personal responsibility. It is the opposite of humble. It is the opposite of brave. It says silently, “I am never the problem, everyone else is.” It implies cowardice and a sense of dismissal. I also have a couple of these in my family. It’s a trait that, over time, will erode and chip away at relationships.

Defensiveness anytime someone comes to them with upset, anger, or feeling hurt

This is somewhat in theme with the point above. To never be open to it when people come to you with hurts or upset, implies both a lack of empathy and a sense of dismissal. It also implies self-righteousness.

They never forgive

Yes, there are certain times, depending on the action(s) of another person, when we should not forgive them. When our mental health or physical safety makes it the smarter choice for ourselves not to forgive and forget. There are things a person might do to us (and this can include friends or even family) that warrant letting them go. And yet, you cannot have lasting, healthy, good relationships without being reasonably forgiving of others. Why? Because, again, even the best of us make mistakes. The people you love will have moments when they let you down or accidentally hurt you. Yet, if you consider it carefully and know they are not a bad person underneath it all, and that by and large, they are a great relationship in your life, this likely warrants forgiveness. People who never forgive are likely hard-hearted and self-righteous.

They use people

Most, if not all of the time, in their relationships, they make decisions based on how it might benefit them. They apologize to keep that person on their good side. They only reach out to someone they’ve wronged when it benefits, is ideal, or good for them, and when they stand to gain from it. They do not really consider how others might feel. They think about their needs first, and everyone else’s is an afterthought if even a thought at all.

They are extremely concerned with themselves, their own image, their looks, their status, them, them, them

Narcissists are primarily focused on themselves. How hot they are. How impressed others are by them. How other's actions affect them. How cool they are. All their thoughts, their problems, their experiences in life. Again, this is a person who lacks empathy, who is not particularly caring or concerned with others (aside from maybe feigning it in brief moments) and is not a person who will treat others well. Further, this is someone who structures their life priorities around shallow things like looks and status. Thus, this is how they will choose friends, romantic partners, and how they will spend much of their time. As a result, they will be a person with vapid, lacking character, and will often be dismissive of others.

Good people care deeply about others and their actions will reflect this. Yes, they will mess up sometimes. Where we go from there, though, determines a lot. Good people feel empathy, they pursue personal growth, they make amends when they hurt another person (even if they do not agree with why the person is hurt). Good people apologize. They have an immense interest in what is important to their nearest and dearest. They are open-hearted (at least a lot of the time). They forgive. They are curious about, concerned with, and interested in others. They ask themselves not, “what can they do for me?” But instead, “What can I do here to make the other person feel good? How can I help this other person? How can I right this? How can I grow and change to be better?”

Fervent writer. Ravenous reader. Impassioned with words. Relationship researcher. Social Scientist. Social Justice Advocate. Author. www.brookeenglish.com

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