What Makes A Good Person


I’m reading “Tortillas to Totems” and stumbled across a chapter where the author, Sam Manicom, has written a bit about his experiences traveling in the US. I noticed I was getting bothered by the way he was writing about Americans. He was writing things about Americans that I can’t imagine he’d say about the residents of other countries – but maybe my hackles are up because I myself am both American and am reluctant to express earnest judgment about others. I put the book down last night and was happier today when I read more and Manicom resigned that he’d fallen into a trap he thought he was being more careful to avoid, where he comes into a situation with pre-conceived notions and lets those ideas color his trip.

But it got me wondering a few things. What can I learn about that outlook he fell into and how he expressed himself? What specifically got my hackles up? Could I and should I try to avoid that? Does this introspective style of writing make me sound like a naval-gazing blowhard?

At this point I’ve gone far enough down the road of self-aggrandizing philosopher that I may as well really commit to it and ask, “What makes a good person?” If we were to start drawing on a big whiteboard some columns of headlines, what would go on the lists under these: MUST, SHOULD, SHOULD NOT, MUST NOT

If I were to attempt this, it’d probably turn into a disaster, but I think Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life (yeah yeah) does a good job at starting this. He’s a little stiff and stuffy, but there’s some genuinely good ideas in there that show at the very least he’s invested some time in this sort of exercise.

But when we express shock at people’s ignorance or apathy, what is it we expect instead? Where are our limits, what’s our tolerance look like? Does someone need to read the world news daily? Monthly? Do they need to be actively involved in their community? What about doing actual real live work and pursuing their definition of success? How informed can someone be if they aren’t participating in the same activities as everyone else? What makes a good person?

Written on April 5, 2019