We all want our villains to look mean and nasty and our nice guys to, well, seem nice.
When I was in grad school, our class went for a summer studio in Spain. One young woman met some American boys and went off to an island for the weekend. (I think I've told this story before.) Some of us less adventurous asked her if she wasn't scared? Her answer, was "They were really nice and they were American!"
Do I have to spend any bloggy real estate to explain why that statement is completely stupid?
I thought not.
It reflects, though, what many of us think, that we can tell if someone is wicked or not. A Good Person doesn't do Bad Things. If they do, they get put in the other column and become a Bad Person.
Except that they do.
A Good Person might snitch some supplies from the office closet. Or let a friend get involved with someone they knew was mentally ill. Or forget a friend's birthday. A Good Person might get themselves in trouble at the investment bank and try to hide the tremendous losses. And these people might look very much like your dad, your neighbor, even you.
A Good Person might not report a crime. A big crime. Over decades. While simultaneously doing lots of Good Things; working hard, honestly, giving to good causes. This person is being discussed in two ways, both, I believe erroneous:
A. He is now a Bad Person and everything he did was Bad. Nothing he did in his life matters anymore because he did this very Bad Thing.
B. Yes he did a Bad Thing but he did so much Good so let's cool our jets.
The first point of view demands that we paint him only as a villain. The serpent. The Joker. The evil nemesis. B. wants us to whitewash the Bad, as if his Deeds, his Works atone for the Bad, like a global tally sheet. The fact of the matter is, Joe Paterno, like all of us, was Good and Bad. The Bad choices he made do not get a reprieve because of all the Good things he did. The Bad Thing remains objectively Bad whether committed by Adolph Hitler, The Buddha, or a beloved football coach.
Most of us live unremarkable lives, doing seemingly unremarkable good - being kind to a neighbor, loving our children, doing an honest day's work. But if we're honest, we live doing unremarkable bad - yelling our our kid, rolling our eyes about our in-laws, cursing out the other driver. Were I to see that shower? I know without a doubt, I would have tackled that guy and pulled the boy out. No doubt. But in humility and truth, I can't say I'm a better person than McQueary or Paterno. At the same time, I have no scruples saying that wickedness won here.
In the end, maybe none of us are Good or Bad, but Human, capable at times of doing Good and too often capable of doing Bad.