The curious case of the human condition

***Note from the Editor: This article was re-edited and syndicated from an article that was  originally published on Medium***

Growing up we had fairytales and folklores that were pretty simple. Good things happened to good people. Bad things happened to bad people. Even in movies, there was the good guy and the bad guy. It was all light versus darkness. So let’s just test that for a minute, I will list some people and you get to say if they are good or bad:

Mother Theresa

 

Cecil John Rhodes

 

Nelson Mandela

 

Hitler

 

Princess Diana

 

Donald Trump

 

Your Father

 

Your Mother

 

You

 

Some of these names seem easy to put in one category but here is the thing. You are wrong whether you choose good or bad you are wrong in either case.

“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so:-William Shakespeare

Truth is you have the ability to save millions of lives but you also have the ability and potential to destroy millions. Science is yet to tell us why it is some choose to save whilst some choose to destroy. Nature vs Nurture. I honestly don’t know the answer though I am immensely curious about the subject.

So why does it matter, whether we believe people are good or bad? Does it even matter? Yes, it matters a lot because it shapes how we see the world, how the systems around us are built and governed.

The Surviving R Kelly docuseries raised the question but he is a musical genius that means he cannot be the child molester and rapist these women claim he is. In one of my favourite soapies from South Africa “The Queen”, the storyline is currently focusing on Goodness, a femme fatale, homewrecker and murderer and how she got raped by her then ex-boyfriend and fiancée, hopeful soccer player Thabiso. Both Scenarios matter because we say that Goodness cannot be raped because she is an objectively bad person and even if there is truth to the injustice against her then she deserved it because she is a bad person. In the R Kelly and Thabiso scenario, their success means that they get absolved of their crimes. How can we hold them accountable when it means that we have to destroy the image of the good person we have built?

Someone can be a great father yet an abusive husband. Someone can be a good family man yet a rapist. Someone can be a woman that goes to church yet be a cruel and manipulative person. There is a duality to the human condition. A hero to someone is a villain to another. And no there doesn’t need to be a time separation that says I used to be this, now I am that. Sometimes they exist all at the same time. Someone can leave the church service to go abuse their maid right after. Someone could rape someone yet go on to make love to someone else right after. The temptation is to go for the easy way out and say those people are crazy, mentally insane. However, I beg to differ, those people are sane and simply guilty of being human. It is easy to focus on the big examples but if we each self-reflected we would realise that these contradictions and dualities exist in all of us albeit in different extents.

It matters that we understand this because we need a justice system that understands that the crime can be independent of the victims or perpetrators’ perceived character. We need a corrections system that understands that the crime does not eradicate the humanity and goodness of the criminal. We need to understand that beyond the crime and the punishment there is still a human being we need to be compassionate and nurturing too.

In personal life, I hope understanding this helps us forgive where we can and reform where we must. Neither your worst actions or your best actions define you. You can always change and do better. See the human behind the hurt and behind the greatness. When we allow others and ourselves the freedom to be human we create a happier world.


Featured image | Becca Peterson| flickr

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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