Thirteen Obstacles to Becoming a Better Person

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8. We don’t believe that there are rewards for being good.

In general, people do things well if they believe they will eventually be rewarded. That’s the major reason people work hard. But many people don’t believe that goodness is rewarded.

In fact, however, there are rewards:

— Good people have far more inner peace.

— You will trust other people. The cheater never trusts anyone because he thinks that everyone is like him — out to cheat everyone. Not being able to trust is not a pleasant way to go through life.

— People will like — and even more importantly, respect — you more, just as you like and respect good people more.

— You will make more friends. And life is incomparably better with good friends.

— And finally, God will reward you in the afterlife. It isn’t fashionable in our hyper-sophisticated and secular age to speak of the afterlife, let alone about ultimate reward and punishment. But if there is a just God, there is ultimate justice.

9. We have to battle our nature.

To be a good person, most of us have to battle our nature. Among many other things, we are naturally preoccupied with ourselves. Yet, to be good, we have to constantly think about others and how we are treating them.

For many people, there is an additional battle they have to wage — with their natural tendency to be angry. One prevalent example is the angry mother or father who poisons his/her children against the other parent after a divorce, thereby often irreparably damaging both the children and the other parent.

10. “I’m a victim.”

I suspect that more people than ever before, in our society and in many others, walk around thinking of themselves as victims. Victimhood status is actually cultivated.

Now, the truth is that most people are victims. Very few of us have been entirely fairly treated by life. The problem, however, is that people who see themselves primarily as victims will rarely do any good, and many will do evil: “I’ve been mistreated by others,” the thinking goes, “so I don’t owe anybody anything.”

11. Few people were raised to be good people.

Parents raise children to be good students, good athletes, to have high self-esteem and with myriad other goals. But few parents put character first. For decades, I have asked parents whether they would be angrier at their teenager for smoking cigarettes or for cheating on tests. You can guess the overwhelming response.

12. In our formative years, the least impressive are rewarded.

In our high-school years, which kids seem to be the most rewarded? The ones with the best character? The kindest? Of course not.

During some of our most formative years, we see the best-looking, the most athletic and the coolest kids get the rewards. We see unimpressive guys getting the prettiest girls, and the prettiest girls getting the most attention — irrespective of their character. And the kids in cliques seem to have the most fun.

Little do we know that these traits won’t be rewarded forever. But it leaves a lasting impression.

13. We have psychological blocks.

As if the first dozen obstacles were not enough, there is an additional one that seems insurmountable for many individuals — psychological issues.

But the operative word here is “seems.” Even those with psychological problems (and who doesn’t have at least one or two?) can and must try to be better people. And the way to begin doing so is purely behavioral: Act better toward others even before you solve your psychological problems. Otherwise, you will never be a better person, since those problems may never disappear. And here’s the good news: The better you act, the better your chances of also improving yourself psychologically.

The sad irony is that while goodness is the thing that everyone wants most from everyone else, few people want it most for themselves.

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  • Ben

    Dear Mr. Prager! Actions not the words define the good human. Millions of good people died in poverty. Only selfish inventors-capitalists have made them happy (though they hate capitalists). We must correct our selflessness according to positive results of our activity.The idea of fairness is sometimes the dangerouse one.I noticed that terrible criminals often live the long happy life.That is they realised their idea by the successful revenge some people for the injustice of the fate.

    • palidin911


      Is that an example of stream of consciousness?

  • 080

    I have no time to become a better person. I am too busy trying to make everyone else better people.

  • Flipside

    There are only Thirteen obstacles to goodness if you live by the lunar calendar. For the rest of us, it's 12.

    • Axe

      Point 13 did sort of get away from him.

  • palidin911

    As much as I respect Mr Prager. about half of his obstacles are non sense.

  • Alexander Gofen

    A few corrections.

    1) The main obstacle to becoming a better person is an intrinsic misery of the human condition, especially obvious in the West. The West has not ever endured any negative selection like that in the former USSR. The West has degenerated and abandoned God on its own initiative and due to its own baseness.

    2) In order to fill happy because of doing good a person already must be spiritual, but exactly this quality lacks to the contemporary humanity.

    3) Otherwise, doing good is rarely rewording in this world, or worse. During the entire human history the good has been rather punished, and it would never survive in an "unaided process" of "natural selection". The fact that the good did survive is a miracle by itself, perhaps God's providence.

  • jlevyellow

    I am surprised by the reactions to Prager's article, which seem to be essentially opposed to his thesis. Each response reflects Mr. Prager's points, except for some that make little sense (e.g., Flipside).

    Let us be clear! These naysayers have rejected evolution, quantum mechanics, and ordinary decency. Only quantum electrodynamics will garner an explanation: Each situation in life represents a superposition in which all understandings exist at the same moment. Human observation collapses the superposition and defines only one position as "reality." (Heidegger's Cat problem).

    Thus, I would rather have been among the Jews who entered Auschwitz believing that the Germans among whom they had lived for generations were not capable of mass extinction of innocents than among the Germans engaged in the act of destroying people whom they had never met.

    Israel and the religious Jewish community protects altruism and holds it out as a human possibility. Other communities do the same, but all altruism is under attack as naive and self-serving. Far from it! The altruistic inclination saves individuals and communities from despair and regret for being human.

    An example: I recently attended a funeral of an Auschwitz survivor. She was a classically trained opera singer who saved her own life by singing for the German officers including Dr. Josef Mengele when requested to do so. The individual German officers were not allowed to listen to her as a group, but invited her to private hearings in their quarters. During these performances, the brutality associated with each officer was momentarily abated. Thus, her singing gave respite to all the inmates: a blessing among the curses. For these performances, she occasionally received a piece of bread or a piece of potato in her soup. What kind of a world do we want?

  • mrbean

    This guy is a babbling idiot: I will answer each of his points. As for point 1. – just crap based on original sin syndrome being pedalled here. As for point 2. – this was jus evasion to the point of adepends what "is" is agrument. As for 3. – altruism is the basis on all collectivism and is evil and has nothing to do with good intentions which are rationalized evasions. As for 4. – Instruction manual on how to be good? It ain't the bible or koram for sure! As for 5.- First to thine own self be true and you will not be false with anyone. Besides, rational self interest is moral! As for 6. – I always say, a little paranoid is good, if they are really out to get you, As for 7. – There are both good role models and bad role models everywhere. Problem is the modern promotion of non judgementalism except for conservative views As for 8. – Most people do believe in the golden rule and in what goes around comes around. 9. – Redressed original sin crap for man as naturally evil again. As for 10. – Life is unfair so deal with it! Adjust and overcome. PART 1

  • mrbean

    PART 2
    As for 11. – Bad parents exist but most parents try to raise their children to be good people and do want them to be successful as well. As for 12. – So now we have envy of the better looking, the more athletic, and the more popular. It is the smart good kids who study hard and also do community work get the college scholarships and into the good universities, and only very few of the jocks and the bimbos do. And 13 finally, – It is little wonder when progessive education constantly has kids unearned self esteem stroked that they cannot learn to deal with life and reality. Like I said in 10. Life is unfair and you don't always win, so deal with it! Adjust and overcome.

    • jlevyellow

      Or, mrbean, are you the one who would sooner hack someone to death than suffer such a fate yourself.

      Try more thoughtful responses next time.

  • jlevyellow

    mrbean wrote (inchoately), "10. Life is unfair and you don't always win, so deal with it! Adjust and overcome."

    Is that your response to the Holocaust or other genocidal acts. Would you think the same thoughts as you are being hacked to death by someone who was treating you unfairly?