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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Good person....

What makes a 'Good' person 'Good'?

How can you tell they are good? What do they do to earn that title? How WELL do you have to know them?

This is something I have been thinking about a lot lately. It's a question that has been hovering over my head like a flaky butterfly hovers over a virgin flower.

Some things everyone can agree are characteristics of a good person. Some things are obvious symbols of bad people. Like physically hurting another person, abusive drug use, robbery.....basically anything that are standard human no-no's. But what characteristics are culturally defined? What actions conflict and are permanent residents of the gray area?

I remember a conversation with a friend that was having problems with a native worker. This man would, in what seemed a random pattern, leave his job for days and sometimes weeks at a time. It was frustrating for his supervisor as the job was a job that had an end and a beginning and a goal. And the delays were not really planned for. I ask what the worker was doing and was told it was 'hunting.' I have heard this comment time and time again, but what came next startled me. This person added another comment offhandedly ...'a Good person would work this job to put food on the table for their kids.' Of course I said...'They are putting food on the table for their kids.' We blinked at each other for a bit. And like any other awkward moment requires, we moved on to the next topic of conversation.

When I was a student teacher one of my instructors pulled me aside for another awkward conversation. Like any other college student I never really paid much attention to how I was dressed. Or wether my hair was perfectly coifed. I never wore makeup or made sure my socks matched. I showered everyday, brushed my teeth (the worst teacher is the one with bad breath), and combed my hair and pulled it back out of my face. All of my clothes were clean if a bit worn out, but I was living on a credit card/loan budget and never gave it much thought. Her face was flushed a delicate pink so I knew this conversation was uncomfortable for her. I schooled my face into a mask that said 'I promise I won't hurt you if you insult me, I am your friend.' She cleared her throat and in a very straight forward and friendly manner told me to buy more 'teacher oriented' clothing. She described it as clothing that would inspire 'trust.' And that would tell everyone that I am an authoritative figure. After the weird moment I decided to make a joke to defuse the tension and said something about not ever having to worry about clothing when I started teaching in the villages. I smiled a big smile and she stared at me with something akin to terror. She replied, 'when you are teaching in the village it will be even more important to dress well and to present yourself apart. How else will they know you are a teacher and someone they have to listen to?" I thought about the women in my life that were authoritative figures. The elder that taught us dancing and stories...She wore a worn out oil stained jacket with hair that looked like an electrified lint ball. One of my 'Aunts' that taught me how to cook any meal that was palatable, her hair was always neat but she wore t-shirts and jeans just like me. I answered her seriously in a tiny voice, 'Because everyone knows me.' We blinked at each other and at the vibrating gulf between our two cultures.

There are many many more anecdotes that illustrate the cultural differences between how one judges a good person, a trustworthy person, a dependable person, a responsible person. I think that the biggest difference, and this is just my opinion, is mainly in how we interact with each other in a society.

In the 'Lower 48' I was both appalled and amazed by how separate everyone was from each other. No need to be nice and decent, there is a good chance you won't see that person again for the rest of your life. Being patient with each other seemed to be a matter of choice. Power of the individual was worshipped, encouraged. Celebrity came with gobs of money. A successful person was judged on how much stuff and paper certificates was amassed. A Good Trustable person could be, in most cases, immediately identified by the clothes they wore, their hair and the shoes they wore. You could walk past a homeless elder on the street and sneer at her, even say mean words, and no one would judge you a bad person because in most cases they would never know. It is easy to do such things in a world filled with thousands...millions....of strangers.

In the village you know everyone, and everyone knows you. You know their secrets and their deeds of kindness. You know wether they are kind to the elder that needed help walking on slippery ice. You know every mean word that they ever said. You know the bad as well as the good. You always act as politely as you can, because you know you will have to deal with this person for the rest of your life, wether you like them or not. You know, after years of interaction and observing a persons actions wether they are good or not, wether you can trust them for certain things, wether or not this person speaks with authority and knowledge. We see each other as permanent beings in our life, and the job and the money and the physical objects as fleeting insubstantial things. A very different view. A different set of scales.

This difference causes much strife and heartache in our changing world. It makes the father hunting caribou in the fall doubt wether he is a good person, it makes the supervisor wonder why he is having trouble getting through to his worker, it makes the teacher wonder wether or not her authority lies only in the costume she wears, it created frustration in the simplest of jobs and friction in relationships. These are things never talked about because each side assumes that what they see as normal and acceptable symbols of the world...everyone knows about them......

So how do you judge a good person? How well do you need to actually know them? And how do you use the answers to those questions to benefit?


  1. So how do you judge a good person? How well do you need to actually know them? And how do you use the answers to those questions to benefit?

    I think the best answer I can give is that to me a good person is someone that connects to other people in positive ways. How their actions continue to build positive and empathic bridges. One good action, makes another good action and it builds. That to me is a good person.

  2. your posts always make me think, thanks. Cristina

  3. Delighted to find you through etsy.
    I love your story-telling. Just "Stop and smell the lichen" and "I think deep thoughts that have no answers but define the questions better", describe a rich spirit. Thinking about your question, I suppose goodness is as goodness does. Only saints are "good" all the time. Not all of us have the tools to interact, communicate and/or act well with others as we course through our journey in this somewhat primitive culture of the "Lower 48". But a clarity and gentleness with the self can only lead to kindness with others along the way. If only we could act from our centre-the source- perhaps we might not behave in reaction and judgement but with the dignity of spirit of our miraculous magnificence.