The Myth of the Good Person

Ifeanacho MaryAnn
5 min readSep 10, 2020

You are not a good person and that’s ok.

I think the description of a bad person is pretty set in stone. We can unanimously agree that any person that happily causes pain to people around them, takes advantage of them, and hides the truth is a bad person.

It is only rational to assume that a good person is one who does the opposite, right?

A person who doesn’t cause pain to other people nor take advantage of them is good.

A person who doesn’t hide or distort the truth is good.

Right?

So recently, a family member of mine was complaining about her driver. The man was incorrigible and given to bouts of insubordination.

With him, tardiness was a culture, rudeness, a way of life, and irritability, his second skin. His recent offense was not coming to work for three days without an explanation. She called him multiple times but he never answered neither did he return the calls.

Today is day four, the day is halfway gone and I can bet the man won’t come.

She felt so bad because she went above and beyond to see the man was happy with the work arrangement. She understood when he had domestic and family emergencies and even gave him days off and paid for his meds constantly. So why was he doing this? Why wasn’t he dedicated to his job? Why was it that people always treated you wrong after you treated them so well?

After a long pained monologue of how unappreciative human beings can be, she said, “That man is not a good person.”

I understood where her sentiments came from. I understood her feelings were justified but what exactly does it mean to be good? Are there any universal parameters for its calibration?

The truth is the man in question had his good sides too.

For what it’s worth, he was honest and when he wasn’t having one of his moods, did a good job of his work.

This made me wonder:

Is good something that can be gauged universally or is it like the images in a prism, variable in light of certain developments?

Does telling your friend the truth that their story is crap make you a good person? Or does it make you a bad person because you hurt their feelings in the process?

Or maybe not telling them the truth to spare their feelings makes you a bad person because let’s face it, “bad people” lie.

Does not telling your friend about her partner’s infidelity because you want to spare their feelings make you a bad person? Or do you become one when you tell them the truth and hurt their feelings?

Dan Brown’s page-turner, “Inferno” begins with a piquant quote that leaves you scrutinizing your morality, inherent goodness, and the efficacy of your moral compass:

“The darkest places in hell are reserved for those that maintain their neutrality in time of moral crisis.”

This might be a bit simplistic but if two of my close friends are having issues, am I a bad person if I decide to maintain a neutral stance? Am I really doomed to one of the levels of Dante’s inferno simply because I choose to sit on the fence to not complicate an already complicated issue?

Or am I a bad person if I choose to get involved, overcomplicate things just because the concept of neutrality and how it can potentially doom me to Tartarus is distasteful?

There’s a saying that we are all bad in someone’s books. Piggybacking off that, it is safe to assume that we are good in some people’s books, no matter how bad we are, right?

If someone gives a lot to charity, contributes an awful lot to their community, is committed to a good cause but is a racist, does that make them a good person or a bad person?

Does their inherent disenchantment for people of color cancel out other good things they do?

A couple of years ago when I was in secondary school, I heard the story of a man that was caught stealing. People wanted to lynch him (which is sadly a normal thing in Nigeria when you steal) till they heard what he stole:

Two 25g packets of Indomie instant noodles.

Everyone left him. It was just sad on so many levels. Some even gave him money. Others gave him foodstuffs. Even the man whose shop he “robbed” gave him something.

It got me thinking.

Are our perceptions of good and bad altered based on the motive behind the action in question?

Are good and bad fixed poles or can they be moved based on sentiment and situation?

Had it been something like a phone, laptop, money (no matter how small), a tire would’ve been hula-hooped around his neck and he’d be burnt before you can say “jungle justice”.

I feel there is no such thing as a universally good person. No one is good in the sense the word conveys. Yes, we try to be so but I don’t think anyone really gets there. In some situations, you are going to make decisions that make some people feel you are on the bad spectrum of things, be it dating Mr/Miss A as opposed to Mr/Miss X, supporting a team, political party, or movement over another, keeping mum over an issue because you know your speech would make things worse, etc.

A good person is a myth. There are just bad people and struggling people. Good is just like a mirage on a hot day. You want to get there and you try tirelessly to do so. When you stop trying, like everything about man, you fall and begin to fit into the description of a bad person. The consistent act of trying to get there is what people ordinarily term “being good”. I feel the good person or the quality of being good is a way of calibrating our moral compasses; a myth we should never stop believing in.

P.S: I’d really love to hear your thoughts on the matter

Like you what you read? Check out The Validity of Your Experience and Not Today, Cupid! A Millennial Guide to (Not) Falling in Love

--

--

Ifeanacho MaryAnn

Storyteller, Long Distance Cat Mom. A quiet voice rambling in an isolated corner of the internet. I write on psychology, films, books and my random thoughts