Over the course of our lives, we will all do something wrong, either accidentally or deliberately. You will hurt another person and be hurt by another person, it is just a fact of life. After someone hurts you to a point of no return, how do we define that person? Are people good for all of the great things they did, or are they bad for the hurt they caused you?
I am going to be arguing as to why these questions should not be asked.
Often when we discuss history or even our personal relationships, we talk of people in terms of moral absolutism. If someone follows the universal expectation of reaching a higher good, then he is a good person. If not, he or she is a bad person. These labels of good and bad are often unmovable or unchangeable. One action could define your place on the right or wrong for all time.This line of thinking was incredibly common during the aftermath of the 2016 election. When various emotions were running high, many people on either side of the political spectrum commonly labeled those on their side as good, and the others as bad; in a heartbeat, without thinking.
This belief set also affects both the heroes and villains of our history. For example, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. he is often regarded as one of the best men in history, and for good reason. But, it is also pretty common knowledge that Dr. King had extramarital affairs. I’m sure someone out there has told you that at some point in your life, demonstrating it as earth-shattering evidence that Dr. King was actually not what people thought he was, that he was possibly a bad person. This is said as if this act completely diminishes all the hard work he had done for the civil rights movements.Another example: some people may be quick to bring up the quote, “Words build bridges to unexplored regions.” But then, drumroll please, it is revealed that this quote was from Hitler! How shocking that such an evil man could have such a good thought. Those words he uttered no longer hold any value, correct?
I acknowledge that these questions can be really hard to answer about certain people. There is always the question of separating the art from the artist. For instance, John Lennon, one of my personal favorite artists and inspirations, is known for beating his wife. I completely condemn domestic violence, but I am also a John Lennon fan. It is something I internally protest a lot, for the separation can be very hard sometimes. It also does not help that I did not know John Lennon personally, and therefore it’s hard to judge.
However, we all have the opportunity to get to know someone, someone we may think is a bad person. I ask the students of the Fordham community to think of someone in their lives who you may label as a bad person. He or she may repeat bad actions all the time, it may be something intrinsic to his or her personality. Does this erase all the good done, all the debts paid and all of the good qualities one may possess?
I am not saying that you have to like everybody, and I acknowledge that there are some people in history who are frankly unforgivable. But, I still encourage you to try to see fellow humans less as monsters down below or angels on pedestals and more like actual human beings. Once we try to see each other as humans and accept the cura personalis, it may be easier to rid ourselves of the simple labels and focus on the little details that make each human unique, complex and whole.