Recent news in the survivor community has reminded me of something I wrote over 5 years ago when Joe Paterno passed away. I’m not going to get into the details of what happened and to who, because I wasn’t involved in it, and while I am vaguely familiar with some of the people involved, it’s not my story to tell. But, I find this quote to be relevant:
Society likes to imagine that we know evil when we see it. That there are “good guys” and “bad guys”, just like in the movies. The good guys always do the right thing, and the bad guys are always out to hurt everyone else. Real life simply doesn’t work that way. The person who volunteers at the hospital, or works with a youth sports league, can be the same person who goes home after having a few and beats their kids. The teacher being fired for molesting a young child can be the same woman who has spent her free time and dedicated herself to educating those same children.
On the other hand, many survivors so want to cling to that belief that their abusers were totally and completely evil, that they create heroes of people who have done good things for them. Suddenly authors, or famous figures who fight against abuse, become their heroes, the people they model their lives after, because those are the “good” people. Eventually though, those heroes prove to be unable to live up to these unrealistic expectations, and disappointment ensues.
The truth is, there isn’t another human alive who is perfectly evil, and there isn’t one who is perfectly good. There are a great many people who have done things that we can admire. We should attempt to emulate those behaviors, and we should allow them the grace to have faults as well. At the end of the day, Joe Paterno was a great coach, and a great teacher to a large number of people. He was also someone who did not live up to his responsibility to the children who looked up to him within the State College community. He, like all of us, was a great number of other things as well, some good, some not so much. His good deeds were admirable, his faults came with consequences, end of story. He wasn’t a hero, nor was he a monster.
No one else is a hero or a monster either. Spend enough time examining any life, and you’ll find plenty of both types of behaviors. Even our biggest heroes have bad days, and behave poorly. All that does is prove that no one really deserves to be a considered a hero. They should simply be respected for the good things they’ve done, or judged for the bad things they have done. We can all have our own opinions about which side anyone falls on that fence, but we shouldn’t be looking for someone else to be the total example of how we should behave. They will always fall short.
I find myself, more and more, thinking back to this. Not just in this situation, but also as I witness the way people are savaged online, in the media, and even in person because they’ve done something that the mob finds unacceptable. Suddenly, they have no good qualities, and nothing is too extreme when it comes to ostracizing them. As if any of us could really survive that level of scrutiny?
As an individual, I simply try my best to develop more good qualities than bad. I try to treat people respectfully, to share information and support as much as I can, whether that be online, or in person, about mental health or just a better way to work with technology. I want to have qualities that others would want to emulate as much as I possibly can. But, I also have bad days, and behave poorly at times. I have had relationships that are not good. I’ve been known to get frustrated with people, and lash out when criticized. I’m not proud of any of those things, but they are part of who I am. They don’t make me “bad” any more than holding a door for someone makes me “good”. We are all so much more complicated than that.
I think we’d all do well to remember that. Not one person walking this earth is 100% perfect. We can, and should, aspire to acquire the good qualities we see in the people around us, but we should never allow anyone to become so glorified in our eyes that we lose sight of the fact that they, too, are imperfect. We should also accept that the people around us, even the people who love us the most, are going to fall short sometimes. That’s why we practice self-care, because everyone has their own life to lead and their own path. That other person we like to lean on for support doesn’t live for us alone. Only we can live for ourselves, and when, inevitably, that person cannot be there, we should have the tools to support ourselves through other means, without bitterness towards the person for being, in fact, only human.
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