Truth, Compassion and Tolerance

How to be a good person

Shefali O'Hara

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Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash

What is important in this world? To be rich? To be powerful? To be smart? To be beautiful? To be healthy?

All of these things have value. If you aren’t healthy, it’s harder to be happy. If you are attractive, it’s easier to find a mate. Being smart makes it easier to solve problems. Of course if you are powerful and/or rich, it’s easier to get what you want.

All of these things can give you good results, but what about being good? Is that important?

Ancient cultures as far flung as the Greeks, the Chinese, and the Maya considered what it meant to be good. Given the course of recent events, being good seems more important than ever.

What are the factors of goodness? Ancient Romans considered duty and honor to be paramount; filial obedience was also a component, which was also true with many Asian cultures.

What about today?

In my personal opinion, I consider three things to be foundational for being a good person: truth, compassion, and tolerance. You may disagree with me, which is fine. Feel free to let me know what you consider important to be considered good.

Truth

What does truth actually mean? After all, doesn’t the definition of what is true change over time?

For example, prior to 1846, when Hungarian doctor Ignaz Semmelweis washed his hands before delivering babies, women often died of puerperal fever. Doctors believed something that wasn’t true until they were proven wrong.

This is an example of objective truth. Objective truth must correspond with reality. In the case above, evidence was collected that proved that washing hands saved lives.

Another example of an objective truth is “one plus one equals two”. Whether or not you agree with this statement is irrelevant. It is true. (Note, I’m ignoring things like rounding of non-integral numbers or special relativity.)

Objective truth matters when you are building a bridge that you hope doesn’t collapse, or balancing your checkbook. It also used to matter when it came to journalism. While the complete truth might not always be offered, there was a journalistic standard…

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Shefali O'Hara

Cancer survivor, writer, engineer. BSEE from MIT, MSEE, and MA in history. Love nature, animals, books, art, and interesting discussions.