The Real Meaning of Being a Good Person

Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

“Believing you’re a good person and actually being one are two completely different things.” Anonymous

We are all familiar with age-old stories of good versus evil and right versus wrong, we curate a collection of traits that we assign to decent people holding certain behaviors in high esteem. We establish these unwritten laws unconsciously crafting our experiences to anchor our core beliefs. If we were neglected, we may make it our mission that no one in our lives will ever feel the anguish of neglect. For us to take this on makes us feel good, as if we are good, by doing good. However noble, it could be that we commit to this so that we subconsciously continue the neglect we experienced, disregarding ourselves, and placing emphasis on another to avoid acknowledging the root of our pain. In order to do so, we continue seeking those that facilitate this through the blatant disregard of their own quality of life, or depending on your poison, sometimes the indifference to ours.

There are many ideas and actions we associate with “good”. We may walk an old lady across the street, open a car door, or offer unsolicited help. These actions have subjective meaning. Let me offer an example in relationship: If a man has a parent that told him only “good” guys open doors for women and failing to do so makes him the contrary, he may only open doors to feel good or get a particular response, resenting the act if it is not continuously validated and eventually projecting his feeling of worthlessness on the recipient. If a woman who has never had a door opened for her and was abandoned by her father gets her door opened, she is going to say, “Wow, this guy is amazing. I am so lucky.” With a small crumb the dance begins, and when the door is no longer opened or the resentment slams it shut, the amazing guy has turned to bad and the woman’s unlucky once more. The match made in heaven quickly turns to a living hell as both parties have confirmed their beliefs of being both bad and abandoned. In actuality, the man just saw her willingness to overlook the details of the driving motivation behind his gestures which served him just as much as it served her until the lights came on and it no longer served either of them to see the truth.

As humans, we go through our lives basing ideas of what is good on our own limited awareness of self and most often our unmet needs. We wear a good heart as a badge of honor that excuses critical thinking, discernment, and sometimes self-respect. Sometimes, we are so focused on what a good person we are, that we fail to see the truth of a situation. We wear blinders seeing what we want to see until we choose to see otherwise. We enter relationships and agreements under this premise and often unconsciously begin the story of setting up good and bad, questioning why we keep experiencing less than desirable people and situations after things no longer align with our fantasy.

According to the dictionary, the definition of bad is plentiful. It can be defined as poor quality or a low standard, worthless and not valid, and failing to conform to standards of moral virtue or acceptable conduct, to name a few. This goes to support the concept that if we have a low standard for ourselves or feel worthless and invalid, we can’t be that dissimilar to someone that rejects the idea of being virtuous or acting in an honorable manner? And, before claiming to be a good person that doesn’t possess low standards or feelings of worthlessness:

“Being a good person does not mean you have to put up with other people’s crap.” Anonymous

The dilemma in getting to know others is that no one knows another’s motivation for any seemingly good deed, and most often unless highly perceptive, it takes extended observation to gauge someone’s authenticity and altruism. It takes time and astuteness, which most of us aren’t willing to trade for instant gratification in the numbing of our wounds. When we are taking behavior and actions at face value, we essentially become blind followers of propaganda, with our unsighted willingness contributing to varying levels of collateral damage. Most often ourselves, sometimes our family, our children, and maybe our finances and health. Becoming aware of our own motivations and others is one of the core components of emotional intelligence.

Even if layers deep our niceties or someone else’s appear kindhearted, there are sometimes dark stories of emptiness that lay beneath our motivations. There can be a lack of sincerity, ulterior motives to appear good to others and gain popularity, or an emptiness with a deep-down need to feel better about ourselves by trying to attain the smallest inkling of self-worth. When it comes to the topic of repeatedly being a good person to our detriment, we must question how good it really is and how good we genuinely believe we are. Many of the “best” of people tend to have a track record of getting the short end of the stick repeatedly, it is a theme in the stories we tell and if we are willing to look deep we can see the thread running through them. Just like “bad people” most often have recurring setbacks, slights, and grievances, self-proclaimed “good” people coincidentally have the same tales. The reason being is that sometimes being a “good person” is quite the same as being a “bad person,” just with opposite polarity.

When we are a good person, we are a hero which equates to power, allowing us to 1) set ourselves up for validation, 2) feel superior, or 3) create a villain. Like a “bad person,” this is an almost identical manipulation tactic whether conscious or not. A good person gets attention for being good, which makes them more prone to repeat whatever behavior colors them in that light. For some, it means dating “bad people” so that they can continue their story of being a good person. For others, it means giving what they don’t have so their suffering is justified. Much like a “bad person” the core issues are the same — cries for love, attention, and worthiness, or depending on the severity, attempts at self-destruction. This is why you will often see “good” people getting used as pawns by “bad” people to do their dirty deeds. We must ask what is so good about forsaking ourselves and giving away our power to create an unknown ripple effect in other people’s lives?

Whether good or bad we create our realities and get distracted from the truth. The truth is that mostly everything is an illusion. A motion picture of ego projections that brings us further from the fact that we are all responsible to ourselves for our reality, behavior, and actions all the time, for our entire life. This isn’t easy to embrace therefore there are only a handful of human beings that have grasped what it truly means to be a good person. The truth is sometimes being a good person involves being ruthlessly honest about our poor choices, bad behavior, and rectifying our negative balance even if we remain unforgiven, unpopular, or misunderstood. It may mean good deeds done in private without ever being recognized. It may involve reframing how we view ourselves and others, which can turn our world as we know it upside down. If our core isn’t stronger than our need for recognition and acceptance we may cave on our resolve.

When I had the stark realization that my identity of being a “good” person wasn’t very good at all but was really my ego story that was quite self-destructive and self-satisfying, I found the following concepts extremely helpful in addressing my defaults:

1. Be responsible for yourself and let others be responsible for themselves.

Think about how being the “hero” may have unintended consequences in other’s lives. Maybe you are enabling bad behavior, maybe you are creating a chain of events you cannot foresee. I know what it feels like to only feel worthy if you are trying to save someone or something or fix a mess, but the only mess you really can fix is the one in your heart and mind.

2. Respect the immense and miraculous essence of being alive and honor this fact. No one’s life is more important than yours.

Have confidence and an inner knowing of protecting your life which trumps anyone else’s manipulation tactics. You may not feel worthy of being here or being loved, but you are the only one who can ever change that. No one is coming to save you from your feelings. If you let others make you feel bad for prioritizing your needs and emotions you are being manipulated for the other person’s gain. If the words of another do not match their actions yet you take their words as currency, not only is the other person lying to you but you are fooling yourself.

3. Be caring and sensitive but not at your detriment.

It doesn’t matter the other person’s awareness or intention. You are liable for your own well-being. You can literally kill yourself putting others first. It takes strength to relearn that valuing your quality of life is not selfish. You should not feel guilty for standing for yourself. If someone doesn’t value you now, I am sorry they never will no matter how much you try to teach them how or how hard you work to prove your value.

4. Take personal responsibility.

Say to yourself “I am responsible for the ways in which I have chosen to destroy my life and I take full responsibility in repairing it,” even if it is hard. We believe the universe is guiding us, but the universe is just a north star after we have built the ship and set sail. We are expected to use our gifts of will and intention, skill, and invention.

5. Communicate your needs, and communicate once.

Do not act expecting a particular result. Instead, communicate your needs. If someone cares about you, you only have to tell them something once. If you continue verbalizing your feelings and doing kind deeds for another hoping to get your needs met but don’t, the only person responsible for your misery is you. If you are able to comprehend and honor when someone expresses a need to you, they are capable of doing the same, they are just choosing not to.

6. Redefine suffering. I no longer need to suffer so that I am good.

I choose what good means and it doesn’t matter who else sees it in me. It may feel like suffering initially when you change your behavior and stop people-pleasing, but it becomes easier over time. It feels extremely uncomfortable to set boundaries and enforce them in the beginning, especially when you get a poor reaction in return. I promise, eventually, it will become laughable to acknowledge that we ever even wanted someone to like a false version of us.

7. You can never ever change anyone; you can only change yourself and make new choices.

You will have to leave the comfort of surrounding yourself with scapegoats and resentment-laden sacrifice which may leave you lost for a time. Saying no to things people and places that foster you giving away yourself, your personal power, and respect is lonely and a bit humbling at first. Acknowledging the network you have created around yourself is eye-opening.

8. You will have to stare your bad behavior in the face which may be the hardest of all.

To acknowledge that you may not be such a good person, after all, is hard to swallow. Especially when you have been oh so slighted by “bad people.” To see your “good” behavior as self-serving is an ego death to put it nicely. To realize you have set up situations in your life to appear good and be a savior can be quite upsetting. Forgive yourself.

9. Lastly always ask yourself these questions:

Does it feel good? More importantly, does it only feel good because it is stroking my ego? Is it from my heart? Am I doing it to be liked? Am I doing it to feel superior? Will this cause resentment? Am I doing something for someone that they have the power to do for themselves….If so why haven’t they done it… Is the answer I get in alignment with what I want in my life right now? Am I manipulating for a particular outcome? Am I doing this to contribute to my story?

So, being that good can be highly subjective, what is the real meaning of being a good person? Maybe we are all just people with the capacity to do good or bad. We can have good intentions and our actions can be interpreted as bad. On a day not long ago I remember buying a sandwich for a homeless lady without her asking because it made me feel good to do. When I handed it to her she said, “Great I will feed this to my cat,” (she didn’t have a cat) as she chucked it in the bushes. Similarly, our “good” actions or mentions thereof no less fueled by selfish intent, can be used to garner attention and illicit a certain wow factor by those easily manipulated. You can look at 80% of LinkedIn self-promotion posts and see this rings true.

After it is all said and done, being a good person means honoring our divinity, owning our limitations, and being true in our actions and words. It means staying aware of manipulation by others, as well as our own. It means drawing a hard line at abuse by self and others. It means having discipline and respect. It means forgiveness, but not repeating cycles. It means not intentionally hurting someone else because we are hurting. It means fostering self-awareness within to acknowledge when we do and making it right. It means saying something to someone directly with decency and respect. It also means not having to always say something. It means honoring someone enough to ask if they want a sandwich or to be walked across the street, and asking ourselves why we would assume we have the authority to decide what another wants or needs if they didn’t ask us for it.

We can live our lives repeating the same experiences in different environments with different faces. We can let our concepts and ideas of ourselves keep us stuck, attracting people to reinforce our self-concept. The one face that doesn’t change is ours. None of us want to look back and think of the life we could have led or the person we could have been. Many of us realize when it is too late that happiness and joy were available to us all along, but because we believed our own story that we were too “good” to do the deep work, we failed to recognize that maybe we are all light or shadows at any given time reflecting to each other what needs to be seen within ourselves. When we create villains in another it is only so we don’t have to be one.