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Being a Better Person

Personal Perspective: What if you already are?

Key points

  • Thinking of what people deserve or their value might create more problems than it solves.
  • All people have requirements to live the life they intend.
  • Focussing on making society more just, fair, and equitable might be the most helpful thing we can do.
Source: peopleimages12 / 123RF
I take only what I need.
Source: peopleimages12 / 123RF

Do you ever think about bettering yourself? Is the better-you version of you clear in your mind? What exactly is the quality of personhood that gets better or worse? Can someone, for example, be worse than they were a day or two ago?

As I was walking along the path beside the river recently, I was deep in thought about my latest self-improvement project. I can clearly remember thinking, "If I could just go with the flow a bit more, that would make me a better person." As soon as that thought had crystallized in my mind, I immediately thought, "But would it? Would it really make me a better person?"

It's not too hard to think about one type of car being better than another. Of course, "better" is always determined by some set of personal standards. A better car for me might not meet your standard of better. My better car might have great fuel economy, whereas better for you might mean bigger with more safety features.

But a better person? Is a butterfly better than the caterpillar it was before it wrapped a cocoon around itself? Do people ever emerge from metaphorical cocoons and spread their wings? And does spreading their wings make them a better version of themselves than their non-wingspreading self?

My musing eventually took me to a place of contemplating the idea that maybe I'm as good a me right now as I'll ever be. Maybe I have the same value now as I did when I was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship or when I lost 4-6, 6-1, 4-6 in the first round of my first-ever tennis tournament as a 12-year-old.

marcociannarel/Stock Photo/Image ID: 102793868/@123RF
Is A Butterfly Better?
Source: marcociannarel/Stock Photo/Image ID: 102793868/@123RF

Could it be that we are what we are? We can certainly do things that might be more or less helpful or more or less kind, but do any of our efforts ever change our value as a person?

Maybe they do.

Maybe it is reasonable to suggest that someone who works tirelessly for charity is a better person than someone who cheats people out of their life savings. But even if they are, where does that get us? What is the point of ascribing value to our personness? Is a person or a life something that can be valued? How would that value be determined, and who would determine it?

Do you value yourself? Do you value yourself more or less than you did last year? Could it be that the concept of people having value actually causes more problems than it solves?

Maybe there is no league ladder to life.

Perhaps all those ideas of how much we are worth and what we can do to be of greater worth are stories created to promote social cohesion. With very large groups of people, decision-makers overseeing the rabble might have thought it was necessary to introduce enticements to being nice and getting along. There might be parallels here with religious and other belief systems that describe serene places we can go to when we die as long as we fulfill certain conditions before we make the transition.

The notion of people having value is perhaps related to the sense of people getting what they deserve. I've often wondered where that idea came from. Who deserves what, and who decides that? Are some people more deserving than others?

Rather than considering a person's value and what they deserve, would it perhaps be more helpful to consider what is needed to make our place fair, just, and equitable?

To live and keep on living, we have certain requirements. Could we focus on those requirements for people's living to thrive and flourish? What if we ensured the conditions necessary to live a life of one's own design were readily available?

Instead of focussing on a person's value or what they deserve, could we direct attention to building communities and societies that have sufficient degrees of freedom so that all the members are able to live as they wish?

To what extent are you living the life you want? To what extent are you able to live the life you want?

Perhaps exploring answers to these questions would enable us to organize our social living so that, regardless of deservingness or value, all people are able to go about the business of ensuring their world stays in the states they prefer.

May you have what you need to keep your world as you wish it to be.

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