Being a Good Person
Doing ethics means being
good. When we think like
this, we usually tell stories about people we admire for their character.
Or, we think of our relationships with
family members, friends, and colleagues.
Ask yourself: "What stories
tell me how to
be a good person?" Then call to
mind the persons who care for you, and ask: "What have I
learned from them about being
Considering how to be a good person is different than
thinking about the right action to take.
These ways of reasoning are like our two eyes, which
help us focus so we see clearly. Asking, "What
action should I take?" and "What kind of
person should I be?" helps to clarify our ethical choice.
We can’t make ethical decisions without considering rules and stories, but we all know that some stories involve
characters who break "the rules" because they care deeply about doing
what is right or for those who are in danger or suffering.
Sojourner Truth, after she gained her own freedom, broke the rules that
made slavery legal in the southern states of the US in order to lead many, who were enslaved, to
freedom. She put the
biblical story of Moses leading the Israelites to freedom out of bondage in
ancient Egypt above laws that asserted a duty to protect the property
rights of those who owned slaves.
Her story reminds us that making moral decisions involves
taking our feelings
into account in our reasoning.
We all understand what it means when a child says, “You hurt my
feelings.” Adults also have
feelings about what is right and good, and a healthy person has empathy for others.
Rules and stories reflect our feelings as well as our
reasoning, but we are more likely to give reasons for rules and explain our
feelings by telling stories.
You may read more about this
approach to applied ethics by purchasing Doing
Ethics in a Diverse World by Robert Traer and Harlan Stelmach. Just
click on the hyperlink above.
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Think about the person who you
respect the most? What is it about this person that you find so
Your answer will tell you a
lot about your moral (ethical) convictions.
Then think about the stories that
you find most interesting and memorable?
Do these stories show you how to
be a good person?
Boy Scouts pledge to be
trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient,
cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. These "virtues"
represent what it means to be "a good person" in Scouting.
you add to this list of virtues, or change the order?
For a discussion of being good in
Doing Environmental Ethics, click