I know a woman who, in order to get a job, told her future employers she had children, and coming up on three years later she is still working there and her employers still believe she has children. She uses these imaginary kids as an excuse to get off days of work, but all she does on those days is sit at home and watch television. Besides this, she is lazy, spiteful, and selfish. But she isn’t evil.
I know another woman who has half a dozen children from three different fathers and is dating another man. By her actions I know she favors the children from some fathers over others. By her actions, I know she is irresponsible and also selfish. I know that she used to sell drugs and may still, smokes weed regularly and has stayed out late at night getting drunk with boyfriend, all with six children in the home and often as a single mother. Her perception of herself and reality is biased to the point it is almost unrecognizable from the actual events taking place, a necessary device in order for her to gain people’s sympathy (and her own). But she isn’t evil.
Those two descriptions are not fair in the slightest, and I make no claims that they are. They are the worst aspects of two people who can be quite pleasant at times, the latter even more so than the former. They are not good people, either one, but they have good aspects, very good aspects, and I could spend pages listing them. They often seem to be quite good. And yet knowing the worst, I could never in my life call them good. I am tempted to call them sympathetic, but knowing the worst (some of which I don’t wish to mention here), even that is impossible.
I know a man who says racist things without remorse, who holds very strong racist opinions and holds them close to his heart. But this man is not just any man, he is in a position of strong political leadership and is friends with many political people in my city and across my state. From his statements it would be easy to gather that he thinks that Mexicans are all stupid, thieving, dishonest, and lazy, and you could probably get a similar or identical reading from his opinions on blacks.
And yet, from his actions I would never be able to tell. He gives money out of his own pocket to help Mexican children who don’t have enough for candy. He actually physically helps older kids whose tires have gone flat on their bikes. Any time anyone of any age, race, or creed comes to him for help, he does literally everything in his power to help them. And then when they turn their backs or get out of earshot, he’ll make disparaging remarks about how they’ll spend the money or why they were in that situation in the first place.
I don’t mean to be trite because surely you’ve all heard this before or reached the same conclusion, but there are very few people who fit the simple definitions we like to arrange others into. Unlike movies or comic books or most fiction in general, evil is rare and God knows true good is like a grain of sand in a haystack. Life is complicated, people are complex, but it’s easier and more attractive to write people off according to one word labels.
I’m no better on either account, of course. I still label people simply and act in ways that would quickly get me labeled if people actually knew about it.
I’ve pretended to be romantically interested in a woman just to get her friend (my co-worker) to like me better and therefore be easier to work with. I revel in the attention, get off on the idea of being desired and the source matter little at all to my ego. I am as selfish, loathsome, and wretched as any human being you will ever find, and if you knew some of the things I have done and if you knew the things I have the desire to do, you would agree and rightfully shun me like a leper.
But I’m not special in that way, either. For a while I used to think I was, but now of course I realize that all of those things are present in everyone to some degree. Those that know me may think I am nice, funny, pleasant, etc. I am. I can be a very considerate and thoughtful person. I can be intelligent and endearing. I am all of those things.
But I’m also an asshole, a pervert. A jackass, a selfish, unabashed cocksucker of the highest order. The “Illusory existence of an internet person” covers that concept fairly well, so I won’t delve into it any deeper, but what’s true in cyberspace is true in real space (and myspace). So what am I? A wonderful, dreadful schizophrenic?”
Is there something deep and significant in any of that? No, probably not. Does acknowledging that people, like each one of us, have many aspects to them, most of which we never truly see, mean that anyone will stop using simple definitions? Of course not. But it’s something to aspire to.