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One Good Person

Acting responsibly in difficult times.

Robert Atkinson
The choice we make is based on being part of the whole.
Source: Robert Atkinson

In the midst of a longer than usual national moment of choice, while we have the right and responsibility to participate in a decision that will impact the lives of so many others, it is well to remember the traditional Chippewa story, “One Good Person":

There was a time when the people had forgotten how to be kind to the Earth, her creatures, and to each other. The Great Council in the Spirit World had finally given up on humans. Mankind had been given so many gifts and opportunities to become part of the family of life, and yet they continued to think only of their own welfare and disrespect the world around them. They were taking more than they required and neglecting the elders and those in need. They had forgotten their sacred kinship and interdependence with the world in which they lived.

The Council concluded that the next day, this young species would be eliminated. The great eagle heard their words on the night winds. She had flown above the villages and loved the promise she saw in so many hearts. She knew she had to travel into the dawn light between night and day and speak with the Council.

She said, “I have heard the prayers and seen the hearts of those who seek to live in balance and respect. I have smelled the smoke of the sage burning as they begin each day with these prayers in their hearts. I know that they carry love for their world and ask for mercy and help so that the relationship with creation can grow.”

It was decided that day that as long as one good person remained, humanity would have a place in the circle of life.

This story speaks to the opportunity humanity had been given by its Creator to recognize and live by the unseen yet undeniable kinship between all creatures of this Earth. When we take more than we require and neglect those in need, there are repercussions. When we forget that we are interdependent with the world in which we live, there are consequences. The Creator has already given us many second chances.

Are we currently facing another such reckoning, where we may need to be deemed worthy of our place in the circle of life, having once again forgotten kindness and lost respect for all our relations?

Traditional stories like this one carry metaphors and symbols designed to reveal a hidden truth. "One good person" gets to the very nature of who a human being is. We were created to be kind to all we share this creation with; when that is forgotten, we lose connection with what sustains us. We may do a lot on our own, but we depend on others more than we recognize.

We vote alone, in our national moment of choice, but our vote is not counted alone, nor is it just for ourselves. This is where John Donne’s quote comes in nicely: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…” Well ahead of his time in the early 17th century, Donne's point was acknowledging his interdependence with the whole: “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”

We are living at a time when our decision in this moment also needs to acknowledge that our interdependence with others is critical to our survival. The singularity of our decision should in no way deter us from taking on the responsibility we are given to make our choice based on being part of the whole.

In her chapter “One Good Person” in Our Moment of Choice: Evolutionary Visions and Hope for the Future, Constance Buffalo, Chippewa, shares this story of her people and relates how her experience has taught her that the spirit world and the physical world are not just concepts but a reality.

She says of the Four Worlds (elements; lands and oceans; all animals and creatures; and humans), “all of those worlds before us are our ancestors and family… we aren’t separate, but belong, and in that belonging, we love and care for our family. We don’t try to protect the Earth as if it was separate from us, for we are of the Earth.”

This kinship assures us that each being is a meaningful thread in the web of life in both the seen and unseen worlds, and this reality inspires our actions in knowing that “if there are some good people, then there can be more. And the more can become many, and the many who have reverence for life can become a powerful tribe and—like millions of stars reflected on a mountain lake—bring light to the darkest night.”


Buffalo, C. "One Good Person," in Atkinson, R., Johnson, K., and Moldow, D. (eds.) (2020). Our Moment of Choice: Evolutionary Visions and Hope for the Future. New York: Atria Books. 57-63.

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