Why You Should Stop Thinking in Terms of Good and Bad People

Instead, ask "what's the next right decision?"

I used to spend a lot of time wondering if I was a good person. What are the criteria for being good? How will I know when I’ve met those criteria? What if I find out what it takes to be a good person and I never measure up?

I’ve since stopped thinking in terms of good and bad people. Here’s why I think you should too:


“Good” and “bad” are too vague and subjective…

You’re never going to agree with even your closest friend on the nuances of what makes a good person. You’ll probably agree on the big stuff – killing people for fun is bad, for instance. But what about the small stuff – recycling, eating meat, or whether or not to drink alcohol?

And how do you do the “good person” math? If you treat your spouse like crap but volunteer at the local food bank, do those two cancel each other out? How many good things do you have to do to achieve good person status? If you do something bad enough, is there any way to make up for it or are you just stuck being a bad person forever?


…which means you waste time wondering if you’re a good person when you should be asking this question:

What is the next right decision? What is the next positive thing you could do to help people and align yourself with your values?

The difference is this: wondering if you’re a good person rarely inspires immediate positive action. The next right decision is specific and actionable.


It can lead to serious self-delusion.

We have a psychological need to think of ourselves as good people. Unfortunately, that means that if our behavior doesn’t fit our idea of a “good person”, we can start justifying some really bad decisions to ourselves.

(This is especially true when you start doing the “good person” math.)

When you think in terms of good and bad decisions instead of good and bad people, it takes the psychological pressure off and allows you to look more honestly at your actions. The worst that could happen is that you made a bad choice – not that you’re a bad person.


It puts you in a position of judgment over someone else.

If you believe in good people, it stands to reason you also believe there are bad people out there. And once you slap that judgement on someone else it tends to remove their humanity. It often makes us blind to positive things the “bad” person is doing, making reconciliation is impossible.

I think it’s totally ok to judge someone’s decision as good or bad. But when we start to judge people as good or bad, it alienates us from one another.


This doesn’t mean you can’t make the choice not to be around someone for your own safety and well being.

You have the right to judge someone’s decisions as good or bad. You also have the right to judge whether or not that person’s effect on you is good or bad and make a decision about how much time and energy you want to spend on them.

For example, I used to have a friend who would regularly choose to objectify women out loud in my hearing. The effect of this behavior on me was anxiety, low self esteem, and occasionally fear. So I chose to no longer spend time with them. I don’t wish them ill or think they’re a bad person. I just don’t want to experience the effects of their choices. So I don’t.


So what does your next right decision look like? Let me know in the comments!

P.S. If you’re not quite sure what that next right decision is, I may be able to help. I have two tarot readings designed to aid in decision-making: one for when you’ve narrowed it down to two choices, and one for the bigger, hairier decisions where there are multiple options and you’re not sure where to start.

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