I like to think of myself as a good person. I try to do the right thing, to make good choices, and to help others when I can. Being a fallible human being, I don’t always succeed, but I do try. For the most part I am pleased with the person I have become, and I work to improve.
That has not always been the case. I have lived a long life and I have done, stupid, hurtful, shameful things. If we are being honest, I think all of us have done things that we look back on in shame. It is part of being human. I would hate to be judged today based on the worst things I have done in my life. I would hope that people would look at my life in context and recognize that I have learned from my bad decisions and have worked to become better. I would hope that people would judge me, not on who I was, but on who I have become. I am not asking that people excuse the bad choices, just recognize that that is not the person I am now.
If I want that consideration for myself then it is only just that I extend it to others. This idea seems very out of step with our culture today.
The newest obsession is to pour over the lives of public figures looking for stupid or hurtful things they have done, then try and use it to destroy their careers and their lives. It doesn’t matter how long ago the offence was, or how they have lived since. If ever in your life you have said something racist, sexist, or homophobic, there can be no forgiveness. In our zeal to show how open minded we are, we must not tolerate anyone who falls short, no matter how long ago.
I think it is a part of human nature to want to tear down those we perceive as being elevated in some way. If you put someone on a pedestal, someone will come along and try to knock them off of it. It’s not hard to do. Everyone has shameful things in their past. We all have feet of clay. Like jealousy, it is one of our baser instincts, and one we should fight to overcome.
This is not to excuse bad behavior. We can acknowledge that these things are and were wrong, but we can also allow that the person who did these may have grown and learned better. Assuming of course that they have in fact grown over the years and ceased the bad behavior. If the person in question is still doing these kinds of things, then by all means let’s make it clear that this is no longer acceptable. How someone reacts when old offences are brought up, is current behavior that tells us who they are now, and is fair game. To put it in religious terms, there can’t be forgiveness without repentance.
When someone’s life demonstrates real change and growth, it is hurtful and counterproductive to continue treating them as if they are still same person they were before the change. Condemn bad behavior, but when the person ceases the bad behavior, acknowledge and encourage the good behavior.
You have a kid who will not clean her room. You lecture, punish, and complain and it’s still a mess. One day she cleans the room without you telling her to. You can thank her for cleaning the room, make sure she knows you appreciate it and her, and maybe you get a clean room more often, or you can snap at her, “Why didn’t you do this the last 10 times I told you to?” and entirely undermine all the work you did to try and get her to change.
Encourage the change you want to see. Stop attacking people for bad behavior after they have outgrown it. Quit dredging up crap from decades ago, quit rewarding those who do. Stop granting them the outrage they seek.