People fail. It’s a thing we do. Usually it is the result of doing something we knew was wrong or saying something we knew could hurt. We have all been on both sides of this, wishing we could take a thing back or that we could un-see or un-hear someone else’s slip-up. But the innate trait persists. People have been failing and will go on failing as long as we endure.
But rectifying the human condition seems a bit ambitious for an opinion column. The tragic flaw in humanity is not something we can control on the macro level, and therefore, is not something to be fretted over here. Instead, we would be better served to examine the basis of our reaction to these moral misgivings and whether that reaction is contributing to a solution or perpetuating an ongoing crisis.
The knee-jerk reaction to other’s failures I often see in myself and those around me seems to be one of dismissiveness. We dismiss a person as vulgar, rude, mean, or one of any number of unfavorable adjectives and effectively try to ostracize him/her from our lives. (This took place on a cultural scale recently as lewd behavior by many respected public figures came to light.) This initial reaction is easily justifiable. However, I question how much good it does in the long term. Surely, there must be a way to react to other’s failings in a way that promotes well-being.
The question of how to respond when disappointed in a person is difficult and should be considered separately for individual situations. But I believe there are two assumptions that, when held in proper balance, can make for a useful guide in such situations.
The first assumption we should make is that every person is of infinite worth and, if given an opportunity, will add some type of value to our lives. The second is that every person will eventually do something that will disappoint us.
Let us first examine the practical impact of the second assumption. Assuming that people will disappoint you does not necessitate a cynicism toward humanity or negate the purpose of disappointment. We should be disappointed when people, ourselves or others, do not live up to their moral potential. However, assuming at least an ounce of depravity in everyone we meet does begin to provide a framework with which to deal with the disappointment. It reminds us to seek to understand first and staves off the sense of helplessness that can come rushing in behind the let down.
Students will cheat. Friends will lie. Adults will act on greed. Celebrities will be selfish. Is it disappointing? Yes. Should this behavior be simply excused as a byproduct of humanity? Certainly not. Is it deserving of confrontation and/or corrective discipline? Most definitely. Should it result in giving up on an individual or labeling him/her as not worth our time or beyond redemption? Not at all.
This is where the first assumption becomes so critical. Assuming the inherent value of a person will inform all aspects of a relationship. It compels us to exercise respect. We begin to look for and appreciate the qualities we deem admirable in a person. It also helps shape our views of redemption and whether the brokenness of a person can heal.
I think it is easy to be quick to throw in the towel on a person. And sometimes that may be the right thing to do, but that should be an exception, not the rule. Instead, we should look for reasons to invest in people. Attempt to reach out, convert, persuade. We should build trusting relationships and then seek to influence. After all, who among us has not needed a helping hand along the way? As Abraham Lincoln said, “Do I not destroy my enemy when I make him my friend?” Earn a friend today.
I have a problem. It is not that others disappoint me. My problem is that when they do, I easily forget to treat them the way I would want to be treated.