Topics & Perspectives

What Makes Someone a Good Person?

We all have people we respect, and one of the most profound compliments we can give is to say someone is a good person. But what makes their actions, intentions, and, ultimately, the person “good” in our view?

Can Someone Be “Good” Even If They Don’t Share the Same Values or Beliefs as You?

We may believe a person we respect to be an individual of integrity, someone who holds to their principles and moral beliefs and behaves accordingly. That sounds about right, doesn’t it? A good person remains true to their values and principles. For many in the U.S., those beliefs might center around God, country, and family.

Here’s where this gets tricky. What if their values don’t look or sound exactly like ours? Is the individual who adheres to them still a good person? Do we judge on the underlying values or on the individual’s moral code that honors their principles? Is it the beliefs themselves, or the person’s embodiment of their values, that resonate with us?

Let’s make the question more concrete.

What if I profess my love of country and my belief in individual freedoms and the rights to life, liberty, and happiness? Am I a patriot, a “good” person? What if I express those beliefs by supporting the NRA and lobbying for anti-abortion laws because I believe those actions support individual constitutional rights and protect the sanctity of life?

Alternatively, what if I protest in support of abortion rights and against the gun lobby because I believe both those actions honor individual rights and protect the sanctity of life? If individuals with either set of beliefs sincerely adhere to their principles, do we view them in the same way?

Are they both “good” people in our eyes?

Or do we require our “good” people to believe exactly what we believe and think exactly as we do? If they do, we certainly feel more comfortable with them. We all like validation that our own beliefs, principles, and actions are “good.” But, if we respect someone for honoring their faith, values, and principles, do we respect them even if we don’t share all of their beliefs?

How Does Individual Morality Relate to the Definition of a Good Person?

Over the course of the last year, we have expanded the national conversation on diversity. As a people, we are confronting our prejudices against skin colors, religions, accents, and even dress.

We struggle to embrace and value the diversity that creates our nation.

Does that appreciation of diversity extend to individual morality and beliefs? Clearly, we do not all think in the same way about politics, religion, and so much more. Must we do so in order to value each other as humans? Can we not tolerate, or even appreciate, our neighbor’s sincere faith, even if it is not our own, or their passionate commitment to American ideals, even if they interpret them differently than we do?

As we learn to accept and value our differences as people, can we include moral diversity as another dimension to be explored and appreciated? Is it possible to recognize that good people see important issues from different perspectives, and that doing so does not make them, or us, less “good”?

Having an Open Mind When Defining “Good”

What makes someone a good person should not be tied to them sharing your beliefs and values. Being one people does not mean being clones, with one mindset. Perhaps being one people means appreciating the similarities and differences while choosing to affirm our union because we are stronger together, in all our wonderful variety.


DeLila Bergan, JD, MA, HEC-C

DeLila Bergan, JD, MA, HEC-C. is a bioethicist, elder mediator, and retired elder law attorney. One of her clients received that 2:00 A.M. phone call and shared its emotional impact; details have been modified to protect the parties’ identities. To contact Ms. Bergan, visit her website

Related Articles

Back to top button