What does it mean to be a good person?

A good person does the right thing. But what is the right thing? Right doing begins with a right attitude in everything you do. What are the qualities of a right attitude? There are seven. Imagine an oak leaf with seven lobes.

Gratitude comes first. As Cicero wrote: gratitude is not only the first of the virtues but the parent of all the others. In religious terms, first comes love of God then love of neighbor. If you are not feeling thankful, you are unlikely to be kind to others.

My favorite analogy here is the security message at the beginning of airplane flights. When the oxygen masks drop, you are told, make sure to put your own on first. Gratitude is your oxygen mask.

Courage comes next. Aristotle even put it first. Courage is the first of the virtues because it makes the others possible,he wrote. Well, I’m sticking with Cicero, but I can see Aristotle’s point.

Kindness is to me courage’s twin. Confidence and self-respect must be paired with respect and empathy for others. Politeness is the natural expression of kindness.

Beneath the trinity of gratitude, courage, and kindness come a pair of virtues: self-knowledge and self-control. Socrates nailed the first of these.  And as the classics have said the truly powerful is the person who can control himself.

Completing the leaf are two lobes: diligence and excellence. More mundane than the first five but indispensable in a complete picture of virtue. If the first five harken back to the virtues of the warrior and priestly castes, so these final two recall those of the craftsman and yeoman farmer.

Too often “being a good person” is reduced to “being nice.” Goodness is not one dimensional. It has at least seven components. Each must be nurtured.