Are We Good People? | A Personal Essay

I think a lot about what makes a good person and the concept of goodness. Is goodness innate or is it something that we do or do we become good over time via actions and choices? Are we born good people or bad people? Or are we born neutral? And if so then it must be our actions that are good or bad or neither, and not us. Is goodness the same as kindness? Is goodness even something that, at the end of the day, we should be striving for? Aren’t good people more likely to be disappointed and taken advantage of?

Goodness is a nebulous concept, hard to quantify and infinitely variable. If you asked 100 people on the street how they define goodness, you would get 100 different answers. Goodness is kindness. Goodness is not kindness. Goodness is treating people well, goodness is trying not to hurt people. Goodness is putting the best version of yourself into the world, goodness is accepting people even at their worst versions of themselves.

Is goodness the same thing as kindness? Is it all about holding the door for people, making them soup when they’re sick, and giving second chances? Kindness and goodness both, ostensibly, put positivity into the world, and so they function similarly. But are they the same? Kindness is about treating people right, whereas goodness is about doing the right thing. Treating someone with kindness isn’t necessarily the right thing to do in every situation. Sometimes you need to be kind to yourself and not to someone else in order to do what’s in your best interests.

Does doing good things make you a good person? Or are they different? Maybe Good People don’t have to worry about trying to do good things. Maybe they don’t have to question every decision they make and ask themselves if that’s the right thing to do. If you choose to do good things does that make you a good person, or if you have to choose does it mean you’re not a good person?

If we’re born good or bad then it doesn’t matter what we do. But it so obviously does matter what we do. We hurt people or we don’t. We’re kind or we’re not. We make the world and our place in it better or we don’t. So we can’t be born good or bad. We must, then, be born neutral. And so it must be our actions that are good or bad, and doing good or not doing good must be what makes us good or bad.

Or neither.

This is how I see it. We’re all just people, neither innately good nor innately bad, trying to get by on a rock hurtling through space at 67,000 miles per hour. We do good things or we do bad things or we do things that are neither good nor bad. If we act with kindness, if we treat others well, then we’re good people. If we do good things, then we’re good people. And as for whether we should be good people? The world is unfeeling, and life is cruel, so every bit of good we do matters.