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Is it better to be human or humane?

Updated on March 15, 2013

What is a real Mensch?

The German language has a special word for those who show both integrity and honor, these types of people are known as Mensch.

Leo Rosten, author of The Joys of Yiddish, takes it one step further by describing a mensch as -

"someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character. The key to being "a real mensch" is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous"

The base meaning of mensch is simply "human." So to make the distinction between a mensch, and someone who is a cruel or evil person, or unmensch, is their level of humanity.

Such a beautiful concept, a clear distinction between those who show humanity towards their fellow man, and those who do not.

Are you a bad person? Am I?

We have all done bad things in our lives. There are times when most people feel like they are a bad person, an unmensch.

In reality that probably isn't true, it seems to me that anyone who takes the time to worry about whether or not they are a good person, probably IS a good person.

It shows they are compassionate enough to care.

It is the ones who are secure in their beliefs in their own goodness that should probably worry. If you can't be honest with yourself and admit to your mistakes, how can you be honest with others?

We all define the term "good person" in our own way.

I've know a lot of people who could see the good in anybody but themselves, and I've known people who don't seem to be able to see the good in anybody but themselves. I know some who judge a persons worth based on their beliefs alone, and some merely by their political affiliation.

My grandmother always told me there were two kinds of people she couldn't stand, thieves and liars. I can't stand to see people suffering, so I can let just about anything go, unless it involves hurting another or causing them to suffer, then I can be a real pain in your...

The reality of whether you are a good person or a bad person really isn't a concrete concept. My grandmother has her view, I have mine, and you very likely have yours.

Our beliefs come from many places, from past experiences, from fears or desires. Whether we see ourselves as a good person or a bad person can come from a place inside ourselves that we don't even know exists.

To Walk in Beauty

The reality of whether you are a good person or a bad person really isn't a concrete concept. It is based on many things, culture plays an important role, as does tradition.

For example:

The Navajo people believe that you can tell a good person by how closely they follow the Navajo way, when one is in harmony with all things and all people, all objects living or inanimate, and all events in your life. They call this, "to walk in beauty."

They believe in a simple life, with family at the center. If a person has more than they need financially, then they are not taking care of their relatives as they should. They consider this being out of balance.

I have always loved this concept, it is simple but powerful.

Defining yourself and your "goodness" by how well you care for others isn't a bad way to start. Goodness really does begin with how you treat those within your own family.

I also love the connection to the concept of beauty. Not a physical beauty, but a spiritual beauty, what is going on on the inside. Not the physical you, the one the outside world sees, but the person you are inside. That is where mot beauty lies after all.

Bringing yourself into balance with both who you are inside and the world outside really is a worthy goal. When one is out of balance the Navajo traditionally correct this balance with a ceremony called the Beautyway.

Wouldn't it be nice if every culture had a ceremony that could cleanse a person of those imbalances, of guilt and shame, and negative thoughts of self.

The Navajo Beauty Way Ceremony

In beauty may I walk

All day long may I walk

Through the returning seasons may I walk

Beautifully I will possess again

Beautifully birds

Beautifully joyful birds

On the trail marked with pollen may I walk

With grasshoppers about my feet may I walk

With dew about my feet may I walk

With beauty may I walk

With beauty before me may I walk

With beauty behind me may I walk

With beauty above me may I walk

With beauty all around me may I walk

In old age, wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk

In old age, wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk

It is finished in beauty

It is finished in beauty

For better or worse...

Are you a good person?

See results

Seeking A Balance

Many cultures, sadly, define beauty by what is seen on the outside. It is quite possible to be a very ugly person in many ways, and still be considered beautiful.

These cultures do not place high value on what is on the inside, which makes it really difficult to see yourself as a good person... the focus is all to often in the wrong places.

Turn your focus inward for a moment, I'm sure you will find things that you feel mark you as a bad person. Decisions you have made, people you have hurt, actions you have taken. Most people can, if they are honest with themselves.

There is goodness in there too, there is a balance to all living things.

None are composed of one side, and absent of the other. Much like the concept of yin and yang, representative of the circle of life and its extremes, dark cannot exist without light, light cannot exist without darkness.

So in order to define yourself or anyone else as a good person or a bad person, do not first seek an absence of the bad to define what is good. The bad is there, it can be found in every soul who ever lived. Asking a person to practice perfect goodness is nearly impossible.

But looking at them in terms of balance, in terms of how often they allow their goodness to overcome the bad.

Inside Out

So, if we place the world view aside, how do you define a good person?

Many people will quickly answer:

Someone who (believes, thinks, acts, dresses, behaves, votes, participates) just like themselves.

Isn't that funny? Most people do not define a good person or a bad person as an individual, but in light of how they see themselves. They make their judgement from the inside out.

"I am a good person, therefore in order to be a good person you must be like me."

Thus one persons psycho is another persons saint.

We can be loved by some, and hated by others. Some may even proclaim that we really are bad people. We don't have to accept their judgement, we don't have to accept their comparison.

What we do need to do, is be honest with ourselves, and strive to learn from past mistakes so we can be better people in the future.

Black and white or...

I've stated many times in many places that good people can sometimes do bad things. I understand that is just my philosophy in life, I prefer to view people as mostly good, with a few rotten apples thrown in the mix.

I still believe that people are *mostly* good...

What is your opinion?

Outside in or Inside out?

Everyone, believes that deep down they are a good person. That the path they have chosen in their life is the correct one. They may even do horrible things, but inside they don't see them as horrible.

Even Hitler, believed his way was not only the right way, but a good thing. To him it was humane and logical to attempt to wipe out a whole race.

At the same time, Mother Teresa, who is considered one of the most giving people of all time doubted her own goodness.

So feeling like you are a good person doesn't always hold water, in the same way, being certain you are a horrible person doesn't.

A good person then would be someone who does good things, leaves a positive mark on the world. To view it not just as the effect they have had on our lives individually, but the number of lives they have touched as a whole.

We all have an influence on this world, we can keep that influence close to us, only affect those closest to us... or we can touch hundreds or lives, thousands, even millions.

It is up to each of us whether or not that influence will be positive or negative, and how many lives it will touch.

So how about you?

If you came here looking for the answer to the question "Am I a good person?" I hope you found your answer. The fact that you even care if you are a good person or not says a lot about you.

Most likely you made a mess of something, you made a mistake, you did something you are ashamed of. That doesn't make you a bad person, it merely makes you a person.

None of us is capable of being a good person 100% of the time. Even if you lost your humanity for a moment and did something truly terrible, it doesn't have to stay that way. There is always a way to turn bad into good.

One gift all humans have been given is the power of choice. Starting today, starting now, you can walk the path of a good person. You will stumble and sometimes fall, we all do, but the important part of the human condition is that you choose your own path.

Choose it now.

Thank you for reading

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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Great lens. I am always trying to explain to my young children that making a bad choice (being bad) doesn't mean they ARE bad.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      @miaponzo: Been learning it an teaching it for years, and you have done a fine with a concept that

      seems often to flutter here and there like a butterfly. It lands-I'vegot it; it left, I've lost it.

      Sleep well this night.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thanks for this great lens!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      This is something I have thought about throughout my life. I think I've decided I'm not a very nice person, but I'm doing the best I can, and I keep trying. I converted to Judaism because it's a religion with a lot of focus on doing the right thing because it's right (which I feel is an achievable goal), and doesn't inquire so deeply into the goodness of my soul (which I doubt). Thanks for visiting my puppet lens of the day!


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