In my thinking about where my “edges” are in what qualities and attitudes I need in friends, Rick made this point:
Think of it this way. A classic prohibition mobster would kill people, maim them, break legs, etc. He would run a criminal organization which could have liquor, rigged gambling, prostitution, etc. He’s not a nice person even if he comes home, kisses his wife, plays with his kids, and has family dinners with all his brothers and sisters. He’s just not a nice person, irrespective of all the personal testimony and character witness of those around him. He will never be a nice person, despite the nice things he does, the charities he fronts, and the public face he projects. There are no amount of good deeds that cancel out a bad inner character. This isn’t a scale with balances. His wife, who supports her husband and knows what he does for a living isn’t a nice person. His brothers, sisters, and mother, who support him and think he’s a great guy, but know where his money comes from aren’t nice people. These are all enablers and accomplices, they aren’t nice people.
Brandon asked this:
To make sure I have some clarity here, let me bring your example back around to the political arena, since this is essentially what kicked this whole thing off. If Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, etc. are bad people, are those people who support them/vote for them, the same as the brother, sister, and mother in your prohibition mobster example? Enablers and accomplices?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this – Brandon is very good at getting me to think critically – and I’ve come around to answer his question with a pretty emphatic “yes.”
My response to him was this:
I’m going to go back to my Holocaust training here, Brandon. In this field of study, people are typically classified into four categories: victims, perpetrators, bystanders, and rescuers. I would argue that there is a fifth category; those who genuinely don’t know what’s happening, whether they are simply not paying attention, they’re being actively deceived, or they’re too young or too feeble to understand.
My thinking echos Rick’s here; if you KNOW that something terrible is happening, if you KNOW that someone is behaving (or would behave, if given the right conditions) in a way that you find repugnant, then YES, you are at the very least an enabler (I think “accomplice” requires active participation). A huge part of my personal practice of personhood is that I refuse to be a bystander. THAT’S what this musing is about; I am trying to discern where my “edges” are in terms of what I can and cannot abide in my environment.
Then, privately, I was confronted with another perspective that asked me how I could be supportive of the President when terrible things have happened under his administration and with his full knowledge and consent, as well. That’s a really great question, but it’s one that I have little trouble addressing.
I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle of what one’s stated goals or intentions are and what one has to do because of the situation. No one is perfect (duh; I always feel like an idiot writing that); the value of a person, I think, is how consistently and carefully one tries to reach one’s best and truest self (or, at the very least, how little of one’s energy is spent in attacking or otherwise mistreating others). We’re going to fail – all of us, and to greater or lesser degrees – but the point is that we’re working toward those higher goals and not spending our energies actively trying to demean, berate, belittle, or persecute others.
The President’s stated goals are very much in line with what I want our national ideology to be; equality for all people (though I do wish he’d finally work up the nerve to say he supports full marriage equality), and a strong, educated, and compassionate society. Mr. Obama doesn’t say, out loud and in front of microphones, that he thinks women should be denied rights to their own bodies, that immigrants are destroying our economy and our culture, that gay people are abominations, or that there is only one acceptable way to worship and anyone who doesn’t toe that line is less than those who do. I’ve heard that – and far, far worse – from people who self-identify as Republicans and Christians, both on television and in person in my real, everyday life.
What’s more, I’ve seen the President actually listen to those who disagree with him and genuinely (and, in the minds of some, too enthusiastically) try to find common ground. Conversely, when confronted with information that contradicts their viewpoint, I’ve watched those same self-identified Republicans and Christians – both on t.v. and in my real life – either outright ignore that evidence or work to discredit it, often through some really ridiculous contortions and convolutions. Honestly; sometimes I wonder if they can even hear themselves.
As part of my commitment to not be a bystander, I’m holding with the wisdom of Desmond Tutu; silence is complicity. Until we figure out how to manifest our purest and truest selves, we’re going to have to learn to live with our shortcomings. For me, I’m going to give my energies – and my friendship – to those whose aims and goals more closely echo mine.
*it seems I’ve been thinking about this for a while; here’s a meditation I did about movie actors back in 2008 which touches on the same ideas I’m wrestling with here*