Good People vs. Great People

Recently, I heard a phrase for the first time that encompassed something I’ve never thought about before. The phrase is: It is harder to be good than to be great.

The phrase means that it is easier to achieve widespread recognition for tremendous accomplishments than it is to simply be a good person. Doing good things without recognition, instead of doing great things and acquiring fame.

Think of the way some people talk about their mother, or their father, or their best friend, or their minister. People who will probably never have their name go down in history. People who spent every day of their lives doing what they could for the people around them. They didn’t become billionaires, they didn’t stop a terrorist attack, they didn’t become president, they didn’t make a great discovery, they didn’t cure a deadly disease… They simply provided love and assistance to the people in their lives. When you are great, everyone knows your achievements. When you are only good, your deeds go largely unnoticed, yet you do them anyway. It’s not just about how many people know what you’ve done, it’s about doing what is good whether you are recognized or not.

Glory is a toxic motivator to be a moral person. If glory motivates you to do good, then you will be inclined not to do good if you do not receive glory. I suppose it doesn’t matter in the long run why someone does good deeds, as long as the good deed is done, right? That may be true, but I have no doubt in my mind the world would be a much worse place if glory was the only motivation people had.

Anonymous donations, volunteer work, recycling, taking the bus to work instead of driving (to pollute less), raising children and remaining a source of support for your children after they’ve grown… These things, and more, are all tremendous contributions to humanity that you will very likely never be thanked for, yet you do them anyway. It’s so much easier to say ‘fuck it’ and be selfish, or only do what will bring you fame, than it is to do good things and wanting nothing in return. It’s almost unnatural.

If you, say, adopt a child from an impoverished African village, that’s admirable. But, if you proceed to brag about it, constantly reminding people that you saved a child from poverty and disease, then you clearly only did it for your own glory. For me personally, that’s enough for me to be disgusted with you, no matter good the deed was.

The best people in the world are those whom the world doesn’t know how much good they’ve done. The small but constant deeds that keep society functioning. We owe them gratitude more than the greatest figures.


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