Bhikkhus, when a good person is born in a family, it is for the good, welfare, and happiness of many people. — from AN 5.42, “The Good Person”, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi
Perhaps this sutta states the obvious, but sometimes we don’t appreciate the importance of the obvious. A good person in any family or community is a source of good will, suppresses other peoples’ unwholesome inclinations (by example), and brings happiness to everyone they meet.
Further along in the sutta, a good person is described as one who is “learned and of virtuous behavior [and] has managed his wealth for the welfare of many.” This describes a particularly well-rounded good person, but good people come in many packages: simple and sophisticated, wealthy and poor, beautiful and ugly. Many or most good people appear perfectly ordinary. The good person the Buddha was describing is recognized because of how they behave in the world.
It may be both useful and pleasant to reflect on who we consider to be good people; not perfect, but good. Are they known to us personally or only by reputation?
A good person I knew died recently. She was an acquaintance to me, one whose generosity, kindness, and firm leadership touched countless lives. People outside of her family and the world of bridge (the card game) in Australia might never have heard of her, but in this universe, she loomed large for decades. Her death reminded me of the quote from Middlemarch by George Eliot:
“But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
The ethical precepts the Buddha recommended for everyone are guidelines for goodness. The time to make use of them is now, while we can.