Aiming to be a better person is a noble goal to have.
It is at the same time a very subjective thing even though it may not seem so at first.
There are lots of nuances to what it means to be a good person and the aim here is to explore some of them and try to figure out a path to our goal.
These are mostly just opinions and ideas as I don’t think you can have definite answers to such questions.
With that in mind let’s start with some questions.
What does it mean to be a better person?
This is a tricky question if I ever saw one.
You might be tempted to think that it’s actually a simple question.
Have empathy, help others, be supportive, etc. Sounds about right, right?
What do all those answers mean?
It means to try and feel what others feel, share what you have, support what others are doing. It can also mean, prioritize others over yourself.
Again, it sounds about right.
But should you do that all the time? And if not, then when to do it and when to prioritize yourself?
I think different situations have different answers.
This is where things start to complicate, figuring out in what circumstances it would be helpful to prioritize others, to share, to support and all of that.
What if something that you think is good leads to something bad?
For example, if you see a child begging on the street, you might be thinking that giving a few bucks to the kid is a good thing, it doesn’t hurt you, it helps the kid, all good.
However, it might be the case that the money eventually goes to the parents of the kid who use him for emotional manipulation.
That in itself may not be all that bad but think about it; if it works, why stop?
If the parents of the kid see that sending the kind on the streets to beg gives them money, then that is an active incentive to keep doing it.
I think you would agree that it’s not an ideal outcome.
What would be a better thing to do for the kid?
Probably a better option would be to help him get out of there, but that is a lot easier said than done. And it’s also debatable if getting him away from his family is actually better.
The point is that on the surface level things that sound good might ultimately not be that good if you dig deeper.
It’s good to have your heart in the right place but if you really care you also need to consider the deeper layers on an issue before trying to fix it otherwise you might end up making it worse.
So then, coming back to the question, maybe the answer is to have empathy but also patience and care to really understand a problem and figure out if you can actually help or not.
And if you do, by all means, then do it.
But if you realize that you can’t really help then maybe ask someone who can or walk away.
Sometimes maybe it’s better not to do anything than to make the problem worse.
The conflict of interests
Let’s come back to the idea of helping others and prioritizing other people’s needs over your own needs.
What if your boss asks you to stay overtime every day for an extra hour or two because the company is not doing very well at the moment?
You could say ‘yes’ because it’s for the greater good, helping the company means you and your colleagues get paid.
On the other hand, you end up a lot more tired and your work will suffer from it, your spouse will be mad and your kids might not appreciate it either.
Keep it up long enough and you risk burnout, a broken marriage and who knows what else.
I agree that being a good person starts with having empathy but continues with a good dose of patience and prioritization.
There is a difference between giving to others and giving in to any request coming your way, eventually becoming that person that anyone can push around.
Saying no to “helping” someone is part of the equation.
Like in the previous example, saying no to your boss when requesting extra hours will probably help your family life.
There is also the consequence that you might need to look for a different job. This brings other questions with it.
How easy it is for you to find a job? How employable are you?
And so on…
How resourceful are you to be able to comfortably say ‘no’ and be able to deal with potential consequences?
And suddenly there is a new layer to being a good person or rather being able to do the right thing in a tricky situation.
We’ll come back to this a bit later.
Why do you want to be a better person?
I think this is also a question worth thinking about every once in a while because the answer can help guide you better to what you are really looking for.
Being a good person, in general, is not really the same thing as being a good father. Thought some aspects do intersect.
If you are looking to live a happy life in harmony with others, this will lead you to some ideas and questions.
If you want to be a good father then there are other more specific things to consider and lots more specific questions to ask.
There is also the non-altruistic motivation of being altruistic that you might want to keep in check.
What I mean by this is that you can fall into the trap of doing ‘good’ to gain the praise of others, money, followers on social media or whatever else.
The motivation aspect I think is really important because it will ultimately dictate your actions, willingness to make progress and correct mistakes, which is part of becoming better.
It doesn’t mean you have to be hard on yourself and demand to be perfect but it is worth considering if your actions are ultimately helping or hurting and who.
I think it’s worth reflecting on the core motivations and let them guide you a bit, to begin with.
Your only competition is yourself
Competition is good when it’s fair.
It helps motivate participants and it promotes becoming better and better. The bar is always pushed and if you are among the best, you get rewarded.
You learn to fall and to get back up.
If you lose, it’s not the end of the world, you work harder and become better and better until you reach the best.
But for all of this to happen and to keep things fair you need to choose your competitions wisely.
And by that, I mean comparing yourself to you rather than some other arbitrary person.
If you compare yourself to any random person chances are the competition is not fair anymore. You either ‘win’ too easily or you ‘loose’ to easily and in both cases you don’t make any progress.
You want the ‘win’ to be realistically attainable in order to keep motivation up and if your competitor is just too far ahead things become a lot harder and visibly unattainable. So motivation runs out.
If your competition is too far behind, you’re already ‘the best’ and you become lazy since there is no threat to your position.
Why does all of this even matter?
Because we tend to compare ourselves to other people constantly and with social media in our face every moment this is a lot more common than it should be.
If you want to become a better person I think it’s safe to say that your competition should be you.
Work on being better than you were yesterday and just keep at it.
Keep a journal to track your progress and figure out what would come next.
Practice by helping yourself
It’s tough to help others if you are not in a good spot, to begin with.
If you are stressed out and emotionally unstable there is not much you can really do for others.
Sure, you can still help here and there on small things and they do count but in the bigger picture, there is not much you can do.
With that in mind, there is no better place to start than by being a good, supportive person to yourself.
Once you reach a better place where you are at least somewhat comfortable with your life then you’ll have more emotional energy and resources to also help others.
You are also practicing problem-solving which is a very important skill to have in the bigger picture.
Look at your mistakes and the motivation behind them and you’ll also learn to hold your judgment for others until you learn more about them.
As you might have done in the past, other people might also do things that seem questionable at first glance but start to make sense once you understand more of the circumstances.
If you are genuinely trying to help yourself like you would try to help another person it’s really an educational experience if you pay attention.
Practice being open minded
What does that even mean?
Different people see things from different perspectives. Good and bad means different things to different people.
If you want to grow as a person I think it’s important to accept that there are multiple ways to look at things.
People vary from culture to culture, they vary within the same culture and so on. Culture itself is subject to change as history teaches us.
You don’t have to agree to everybody’s point of view but it goes a long way to see them and maybe even understand where they come from.
Nobody knows everything and nobody can possibly think of all the intricacies of a subject.
But if you pay attention to other points of view, they might see things you don’t.
Use them as an opportunity to learn about the subject and also learn about people and how their circumstances affect their views on things.
The next steps
I think the questions posed in this article are a good start to a quest of becoming a better person but it’s just a tiny beginning.
Being a good person is not something you can simply reach and then stop there so we all have to keep learning.
But to begin with, I would suggest figuring out where you are right now and what could you do to help yourself.
I’m sure there are areas of your life that could use a bit of polish, start figuring those out and as you do so, you might even figure out solutions that could work for other people.
Start small and add more as you make progress.