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What Does It Mean to Be a Good Human Being?

by Marianne Navada
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Rafa Nadal, one of the greatest tennis players of all time, is nearing the end of his career. In a Louis Vuitton campaign with Roger Federer and in his commencement speech for the Rafael Nadal Tennis Academy, he talked about the importance of being a good human being. He explains that more than a decorated tennis player, what would make him proud and happy is to leave this world knowing that the people he interacted with throughout his career would consider him a good person. 

What does it mean to be a good human being? I’ve been asking myself this question since I was young. Although the core of what I think means to be a good person has stayed the same, some things have changed.

The Right Way

I’ve always believed that to be a good human, I had to always do the right thing. I know this sounds subjective and in a tangled gray area, but hear me out. Life forces us to make little choices that define who we are. The cashier gives you $10 more than they’re supposed to, the right thing to do is to give it back. You don’t cheat on the person you love. You don’t take what is not yours. Respect people and their things. Don’t emotionally blackmail people to get what you want in life. Challenge yourself, but give yourself grace. These have always stayed the same. 

The Change

As I have gotten older, however, I find that how I define being a good human as it pertains to careers has changed. On hindsight, I chose to join academia, research, and teaching, because I thought that part of being good meant having a job that served and educate. But I have since redefined how careers and professions relate to being a good human being. Bankers, baristas, engineers, entertainers, athletes, as careers, all have a “good human being” quality built in. In the end, we all contribute to each other’s peace of mind. In our jobs, we have the opportunity to make someone’s day less taxing.

On Legacies and Being a Good Human

Nadal explains that to be a good human being for him, means focusing on the daily and the small things. How do you want to be remembered? Our interactions with people we meet at our jobs and in life make up the goodness we show the world. Nowadays, there’s a tendency to think about larger causes, when considering goodness. These can involve one’s political views, attitudes about war, or the environment. We have associated good human being with a larger identity. But this can lead us to overlook the importance of how we treat people we meet face-to-face. Defining our character and legacy requires more daily input. This provides a more active and less judgmental approach to building character through worldviews.

Nadal’s answer when asked how he wants to be remembered didn’t involve grand public testimony about his tennis achievements. Someone will come along and break records. It’s how the people he interacted with will remember him, that will make for a longer-lasting legacy. Because we all know how it is to meet and spend time with a good person. That moment can revitalize our faith in humanity.

Commit to living.