There has been a lot of interest lately in what it takes to be a good person. I’ve previously argued that it is about practicing cardinal virtues. But virtues are abstract and hard to conceptualize. Here are some very straightforward and practical ways to become a better person, and to make the world a better place at the same time.
1. Treat Public Property as Your Own.
We just returned from a road trip. I saw national monuments defaced with graffiti, trashed restrooms, lots of litter on highways and in ponds. Imagine that we treated public property as if it were our own private property – because it is! So, take the time to throw your trash away in a receptacle. Treat our public spaces like the treasures that they are, and for Pete’s sake, don’t pee on the toilet seat.
2. Pretend That Stranger is Your Good Friend.
Social Psychology tells us that we have a natural tendency to treat our in-group members well, but treat out-group members poorly. Reverse this. Rather than considering a stranger to be “one of those people,” imagine that every stranger is potentially a friend. Now, I’m not saying to blindly trust everyone, but think of this: The next time another driver makes an odd lane change or drives too slowly, rather than honking, mumbling “stupid idiot,” and zooming ahead, imagine that it is a befuddled friend, or better yet, an elderly relative. Treat others with respect, not disdain.
3. Put Yourself in the Other Person’s Shoes.
Many of us suffer an unwillingness to see things from the other person’s perspective. A lot of this is due to our preoccupation with ourselves and our personal situation, social norms of “every person for themselves,” and the ever-present feeling of “us vs. them.” Rather than immediately rejecting their opinions or ideas, try to consider their perspectives. Realize that they have a different background and belief system. Be tolerant, not argumentative. For example, don’t immediately attack or insult (or unfriend) someone on social media simply because he or she has a different opinion or perspective.
4. Do Something Positive.
Pick up that piece of trash. Help someone in need. Volunteer. Practice random acts of kindness. At the very least, greet or smile at strangers. A positive attitude can be infectious. Helping others benefits them, makes you feel good, and makes the world a better place.
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