Wednesday, June 20, 2012

dividing people into good vs. bad

I was reading the blog post Scorn Profits the Blogger but Costs the Kingdom, and while I saw it in part as a more eloquent explanation of what I was trying to get at in my enthymeme posts, What really caught my eye was this quote:
 I’m getting mixed messages when you say I’m a person of “good heart and mind” who is simultaneously “selling scorn.”
The idea that there is a contradiction between seeing someone in an overall positive light as a good person and seeing one of their behaviours as mistaken, had the resonance with something that I had encountered, and been bothered by, before.
    It reminded me of a conversation I had had with an acquaintance lately. She focused on whether her parents were on her side in conflicts she was having with her sister, She seemed to think of this as going hand-in-hand with “understanding” her. Of course she thought the position she held was right (or she wouldn’t have held it) and that her parents should also agree with it. But it seems to go beyond expecting the rightness of the case to convince, to a feeling that not being on her side indicated something wrong with the fundamental relationship, as if regardless of the merits of her case, the fact that she was upset should not only make them upset too but make them into an advocate for her desires. This lead me father back into my memories.
Many years ago I was talking with a friend, for this post I’ll call her Chris. She was telling us about how upset she was at an injustice that had been done her. She had been arrested for soliciting for prostitution, which would cause her a lot of trouble, especially because she was already on probation. She was indignant at the arrest because she hadn’t actually said anything to the undercover cop. All she had done was make some hand gestures. She demonstrated the gestures. I dropped out of the conversation at that point. I had to side with the cop. Those gestures clearly conveyed a commercial offer without any words needing to be said. And that memory has stuck with me. I didn’t like Chris any less, I didn’t change my basic opinion of Chris as  a basically nice person who had some issues she needed help working on. But at the same time in this case I wasn’t on Chris’s side in this issue.
There a tendency to divide people into good and bad people. Your friends are good basically right thinking people. Of course you want to defend them if they are upset or feeling wronged. If someone feels hurt or angry and you understand and sympathise  with why she feels that way then she must be right to feel that way. If you consider the facts of the case first wouldn’t be doubting they were good people, wouldn’t that be discarding the basis of your friendship?
    But that dichotomy, between a good person who is your friend and someone who has done a specific wrong thing, is a false one. Most people say something in anger or scorn at some time in our lives. Sooner or later most of us are overly demanding or irritating towards a family member. Being in the friends/good people category shouldn’t prevent those around us from acknowledging these things when they happen. And on the other side the isolated fact that someone committed a crime or transgressed our societies boundaries rule out the possibility that they might be a friendly kind, and likable person in other respects. Connected to this we shouldn’t ‘equate’ sympathising with them in some areas means excusing or condoning their wrongs. We shouldn’t make understanding something mean we have to endorse it and we shouldn’t make the fact that we can’t endorse something means we never try to understand it. In a functioning society there has to be room to criticize people without rejecting them and the possibility of understanding even those we are opposed to.

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