Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Saints and Sinners

In keeping with my current theme of human behaviour, and following other bloggers and how we sort of bounce off one another, today I'd like to explore the idea of imperfection.

To begin, I'd just like to mention a concept that's doing the rounds on social media, the idea that we should not let others define us. Indeed it's not a good idea, and this is an important thing in a world where so many people lack self-esteem, permanently or temporarily, for all sorts of reasons. It's especially important in the drive for equality that we not allow ourselves to be defined by those who would oppress us.

But at the same time, we should listen to our gentler critics, lest we miss a pattern emerging.

Or, less eloquently, if EVERYONE thinks you're an arsehole, you probably are.

The purpose of this is to at least assess how you are perceived, because it's useful. I'll give you an example.

I think of my myself as an incredibly uncomplicated person. I wear my heart on my sleeve. What you see is what you get. I'm predictable, reliable, and steady.

Some people perceive me quite differently. Rather than seeing me as confident and happy-go-lucky, they see me as intimidating. They don't see me as non-moody, rather, they see me as hiding something. In short, they think I'm inscrutable. Which is of course the opposite to how I see it.

I think they are looking for depths that just aren't there.

When we examine this, we can say "oh well, they're just reflecting their own insecurities". And the whole thing becomes a game of accusations and assumptions. Back and forth.

Here's the deal. We are all flawed.

There is no human being without faults, without quirks, without behaviours he really shouldn't have. Not one. There are no saints. There are no people who are above the rest of us. We all err. We all fuck up sometimes.

It's easy to find those who do it more often. Of course it is. So in fact what we are saying, when we judge others, is that they fuck up more than we do, or in different ways.

If we stop for a moment to ask why, it may help. They simply may not have had the advantages we've had.

When I read a book, for example, I sometimes wonder how disturbed the writer's mind is. What made him write about that? Well, obviously something did. Something in his life led to him having those thoughts I don't have. Thinking about things I don't think about. Sometimes a writer uses his personal hell to create a masterpiece. If we find it disturbing, then we should be grateful we didn't suffer it ourselves.

In conversations about this, I hear people tell me that if you have had an easy life you have nothing to write about. Which is bollocks, because I write non-stop. But it's certainly different. I write about what I observe, which often means I write about other people's experiences rather than my own. Does this mean I get it wrong? Well, that's up to me, isn't it. And up to others to judge.

I tell you this: people don't want to read "dark" all the time. And a story can be enjoyable, valuable, meaningful, even deep, without being disturbing.

I don't buy this idea that art, any art, always has to cause discomfort to be valid. I think there's quite enough discomfort in the world. Quite enough negative. I think art should inspire. I agree, that sometimes we need to get out of our comfort zone to be inspired, but to always have to share the darkest corners of the mind of another? No.

There was this idea, you see, that in order to be deep and wise and all that, you had to be, essentially, emotionally scarred by something. I reject that. I know plenty of scarred people who are extremely shallow, for a start. I know others who are completely broken. I also know scarred people whose reaction to their experiences is to turn around and attack like a cornered animal. I don't think there is any intellectual advantage to suffering.

Sure, there are deep and wise scarred people, but the one does not necessarily follow the others.

Plus, some of the deepest, wisest people I know have had charmed lives. Actually. So let's forget this whole daft idea that a person's experiences to date, positive or negative, guarantee anything.

At the same time, we can say that, yes, in many cases a person reflects their experiences. This does not contradict what I just said in any way. Choice is involved, you see.

When all is said and done, only one thing emerges from examining how people respond to the cumulative effect of everything that has happened to them so far, and that is my mantra of there being a massive chasm of difference between an explanation and and excuse.

To put it in simple terms, if you hit a tree with your car, you will get a dent. How did you get a dent? You hit a tree. There's the explanation part.

But nobody in their right mind would say the car is justified in having a dent. However accurate that might be, it's a silly concept. It's just dented, because it is. That's what happens when you hit trees.

Same with people. If you hit a human, he's going to be upset about it. There's no way round that. It might leave a dent, well a bruise, anyway, but because he's a human and not a car, it hurts him emotionally too. This is inevitable.

He then has to decide, sooner or later, how he's going to respond to that. Sooner, well he might just hit you back. Later, he might hate you, press charges, or he might spend the rest of his life in fear of another such attack. There are lots of possibilities, and he may choose several of them.

Cars don't do that. They just sit there, dented. They don't have feelings or choices. Ultimately, however, the place that was dented may rust as a direct result of the damage. That can happen to people too. They can corrode following damage. But you can't see this rust because it's inside. It's in their memory and their behaviour. It's no secret that this can happen, and we can explain why.

Is it an excuse? Well, that depends. Strictly speaking the car does have an excuse. It is powerless to fix its dent. Humans are not. They can make choices.

Does this mean every human can simply choose to be philosophical about their bad experiences, their dents? No, of course not.

Some cars, when repaired, still show a bit of a crease where the dent was. And some...well, some are written off. They can't actually function as cars anymore.

When a human behaves badly, when he allows his negative past to affect him in the present, we can explain it, that's the easy part. Whether we can excuse it or not is far, far more complicated. There has to be a balance.

Oh no, not balance again Melanie, that's too hard! You're asking too much!

You bet I am. I'm asking for every case, every incident to be taken on its merits. I'm asking that we neither enable damaged people to act out in some feeble attempt to right their wrongs, or worse, nor do we pretend that they have never suffered. I'm asking that we don't excuse bad behaviour, but we do ask "why?"

We like to point fingers. We like to say "you are bad." In a way we are saying "you have sinned." We do this so much, without thinking about it, that we actually add to the problem.

I don't believe in sin. I especially do not believe in "sins of the fathers" or any other nonsense that holds a person responsible for the actions of others. I utterly reject blaming a person from a given group for the behaviour of other members of that group. But I understand why people talk about sin. It's a nice, easy, compact concept. It suggests there is a set or rules, spoken or unspoken, that we are all guided by. Unfortunately there isn't, there are just ideas we have, collectively, about how to behave. See previous blog (s) on this topic, I talk about it a lot.

There are no saints. There are no sinners. It always works both ways.

If we are to be better people, get along with one another more peacefully, strive for the best humanity can be, we have to stop seeing people as saints or sinners. We have to see every human as person with a past, that created who he is today, but at the same time we have to help him be the best he can be despite that past.

And sometimes that involves saying "No, this behaviour is not acceptable". Make sure yours is.


  1. I agree.
    One of my favourite books is Stephen King, The Stand. King's purpose in that book was to show, no person is good or evil but carries the potential of both inside themselves. I believe the Patty Hearst story was his inspiration.
    There is redemption available for us, through choice.

  2. Happy day to you, Melanie! First off, when you write about my favorite subject of balance, and the influence of duality in our lives, know that I am in agreement with you. As someone who had their eyes opened years ago to how enabling I was as an individual, it can still be a challenge in some ways. It is so easy for us to continue walking that same rut in the road. The rut is right there, after all, and very convenient-- why cause an uproar by doing something any more difficult than following the easy path?

    I certainly appreciate your encouragement for us to be better people. We DO have the choice to rise above our current and previous circumstances. There is still a lot of 'history' for us to grasp that we may not always take into consideration. I say this with a nod to the mental health issues that, over the past 100 years or so, have been so studiously defined for our consumption.

    There is so much more 'evil' that has been visited upon humanity BY humanity, that the pool runs very deep. We never know when it will come back to haunt us. As you said, we need not look to 'excuse' behaviors or choices because of that history or those labels. We DO have the active choice before us to understand and be compassionate, and rise above our past experience; take a step in a new direction.

    If someone is struggling/suffering with pain from the past, it may be best to deal with it and remove it from being such a focal point than continue reacting to it. It can be a lot of baggage to carry around--I get that.

    We can choose wisely, help each other, and hope for the best. Thanks for the reminder. ;) ~ Blessings!

    1. I'm not sure when the idea of "baggage" became a popular term, but unlike much of the psycho-babble trends in language, I find it useful. I've even been present at a ritual where leaving a heavy load (acted out as a sack over the shoulder) was dumped, and the person carried on walking without looking back. It was obviously very therapeutic (and cathartic) and I have suggested it to others (those willing to take part in such things).

  3. I have an "evil" side that would like very much to gun down all the people that upset me. In high school I had written plans of how to take down all the people there who hurt me. Of course, that kind of behavior is wrong so I didn't do it. But I admit I still have that part of me. The only time it really comes to the forefront is that all the "Back to School" displays make me physically ill.
    The other part worries that what if the grass feels us step on it and is hurt by mowing. I constantly analyze my choices and try to determine how much choices will turn out for everyone else. I have a simple goal of making the cashier smile when I go through the line. But will something I say somehow make them feel bad? Worse could they get fired for chatting with a customer? I am not saying I am "good" because I am not. I am saying I really try to not be bad.

    1. It's not supposed to be easy. It's supposed to require ongoing thought and decision. But it's not supposed to be so obsessive that it causes paralysing stress. Again, there's a balance.