Why being a good person is a choice


Kevin Mangelschots

“A good man is not a harmless man. A good man is a dangerous man who has it under voluntary control.”

This quote sets the tone as to how I view this topic. There’s no virtue in being kind out of weakness, or because you don’t know how to do anything else. Ideally, being a good person is a choice

Let me explain why there’s a difference between being good out of choice vs. out of weakness.

Is it a choice to be a good person?

Being a good person is a choice because there’s good and bad in every single individual. That’s why it takes a conscious effort to be a decent individual. It requires great effort, time, energy, and even intelligence to become a responsible human being.

Some people think that people or born purely virtuous or evil. While there are certainly some genetic elements present from birth, the environment, the experiences we go through, and which side of our personality we decide to nurture ultimately decide our personality.

It determines whether we grow up to be a good person or someone who exists simply to satisfy their desires without caring about others.

But don’t be fooled. Even decent people fall prey to dark, bad, and negative thoughts. They make mistakes and act selfishly at times, all the while experiencing negative emotions just the same as bad people do.

What makes a good person good?

What makes a good person good are virtuous characteristics such as being:
  1. Kind
  2. Loving
  3. Respectful
  4. Thoughtful
  5. Generous
  6. Considerate

Again, it’s much harder to employ those traits rather than simply behaving selfishly without any care or regard for the feelings of others.

Why do you choose to be a good person?

The word “why” written multiple times on a blue background with question marks surrounding it.
You choose to be a good person because it takes a conscious effort, and requires a large variety of hard-earned skills such as being courageous in the face of pain, failure, and rejection.
Without being a good person yourself, you can’t see the good and beauty in others either. This means you’ll inevitably fall victim to despair, void of any hope for yourself or society.
Living like a decent, responsible individual will make you content, and authentic, and cause you to develop as a human being, transforming you into someone better than before in the process.

The differences between being good out of choice vs out of weakness

Two road signs reading “choice” with one pointing to the left, and the other to the right.

There have to be two things before we can call someone being a good person a choice:

  1. The capacity for evil
  2. Multiple options to choose from. Which in this case is being able to decide to be good or bad.

Without these 2 factors, we’re simply being good and kind because we don’t know anything else, and/or because we can’t be anyone else. Thus, it’s our “base” mode, and only way of living since we don’t have any other options available to us.

Different morality

Being a good person out of choice and being good out of weakness is based on morality. Because in reality, there is no such thing as good and evil. Good and bad is something that’s been made up by humans when morality and ethics came into play.

We define what’s good/virtuous and bad/evil based on what our society deems appropriate. Thus, what’s considered good and bad in one society is not necessarily considered the same way in another society.

Soft drugs, for example, are allowed and not considered as something ‘bad’ in some countries while it’s considered illegal, harmful, and detrimental in other states.

So we’ve established it’s possible to be good out of choice, and good out of weakness based on morality.

Different motivations

Illustration depicting the differences between intrinsic, and extrinsic motivation.
Illustration depicting the differences between intrinsic, and extrinsic motivation.

Two people can display the same actions and outcomes, yet with different motivations. One person might do it because they truly want to help others grow, while the other one does it to be socially accepted.

While the results may be the same in both cases at first, the key difference is the motivation for being good. Being good out of your own choice means you are intrinsically motivated while being good out of weakness means you are extrinsically motivated to behave decently.

Due to this difference in motive, the results will likely shift over time. The person who is good out of weakness likely won’t stay this way for long and may turn jealous, angry, cynical, or even worse, resentful.

Different options available

Image of multiple train railways.

Being good out of choice means that you voluntarily choose to be good, even when you have the option to be terrible. You have moral values which enable and stimulate you to be decent and kind to others.

On the other hand, there’s being good out of weakness. The result can be the same as if you were good out of your own, personal choice. Yet, you aren’t being good voluntarily, or you are at the very least not intrinsically motivated to behave accordingly.

In this case, you are being helpful to others because you don’t know how to be atrocious, so there’s no choice other than being good. Or maybe you are good because you are afraid of the repercussions of behaving horrifically. Or perhaps you are afraid of what others will think of you when you don’t act in the manner that they want you to.

In short, you have to be capable of being bad before you can choose to be good.

Examples of being good out of choice vs out of weakness

Image of the road sign “good” pointing to the right, and the road sign “bad” pointing to the left.

Let’s start with a possible example that can occur in the workplace.

Picture this: One specific coworker at your work is always the first one to help out the other colleagues.

That person is always taking on extra workload and never says no when somebody asks for a favor or help. At first glance, this colleague seems like a great and empathic individual, which, by the way, is perfectly possible and reasonable.

However, there are two possible main reasons why this colleague is being good for the coworkers at work in this instance.

  1. They’re a genuinely good person out of choice

    The first reason is that they truly love their job and coworkers.

    That’s why they want to help out wherever possible. They’re assertive and can say no when they want to, or when the situation calls for it.

    This person chooses to be good to their coworkers because of their desire to help others in need. This person does so out of their own choice.

  2. They’re good out of weakness

    The other explanation is that the helpful person in question is simply not capable of saying no because they’re trying to gain external rewards.

    They’re afraid of what their coworkers might think of them when they say no. It’s also possible that they’re afraid of getting berated by their boss for not helping out the rest of their peers.

    So the reason for helping out is not out of the good of their heart, or because that person is intrinsically motivated to be kind. It’s simply put because it’s the only manner of living they know.

    Perhaps this person is also afraid of the punishment they might get from their boss, or the possible social judgment being passed on.

    In this case, the person only acts good because they’re not capable of being bad.

Image of the word “example” being written with a blue marker by someone's hand.

Example number two: Always giving in to the whims of the spouse. Constantly looking out for the married person’s needs while simultaneously neglecting their own needs and desires.

Again, two primary reasons for acting well:

  1. Good out of choice

    They’re a decent person who wants to make the relationship work because they love their spouse.

    They know how to say no and knows how to be assertive. It’s just that they choose to be good and help their partner as much as possible for the relationship to succeed.

  2. Good out-of-weakness

    The spouse is the dominant person in the relationship.

    They’re afraid that their partner is going to leave them if they stand their ground and tell the spouse “no” when it’s needed.

    Thus, they don’t know how to be assertive, and they’re incapable of saying no.

    Furthermore, they’re afraid their partner will leave them if they finally stand up for themselves.

    Due to this, the only mode of living for them is being “good”. Because in this particular case, there is no other alternative. No other decision to make.


Lessons Learned statement on paper note pad. Office desk with electronic devices and computer, wood table from above, concept image for blog title or header image. Aged vintage color look.

You need at least two options before you can call something a choice. Nevertheless, more alternatives are preferable to pick the best option. The same applies to this specific topic.

Deciding to be a good person is a choice, and inherently means that you must be capable of being immoral. Only, and only then, can we speak of making a decision.

I believe that there’s good and bad in everyone. What grows and gets expressed simply depends on what side of our personality we decide to nurture.