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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 good?"  

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 compelling?

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.

Would you add to this list of virtues, or change the order?  

For a discussion of being good in Doing Environmental Ethics, click here.

   
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