Someone I work with was recently charged with a crime. It was all very sudden and out of character. It got me thinking about how much we know about people, how we present a professional persona, or what we tell others about ourselves.
I can appreciate being private about aspects of your life. Having a sense of professionalism in your job creates a sense of respect and confidence and level of service. Letting everyone at work know your specific vulnerabilities or that you have a mental condition, or addiction, etc may not create cohesion between co-workers. People judge and have opinions which may be harmful.
The reality is that most people do have imbalance in their lives. Very few of us are actually in constant balance, which can then sometimes reflect on our environment. We have stories we’ve been told and learned to believe; we absorbed beliefs about ourselves to survive. Everything we learned served a purpose at a time – even if it was just to create a sense of protection.
So as I learned more about the circumstances of the crime, I was angry. I wanted justification and sought answers. I wanted to know the circumstances of the situation. I wanted to know the context. I look at basics before I see the whole picture. I could feel that there was something more to the situation than just an isolated incident that lead to this tragic apex. But I would not learn more.
Even if I could understand and have empathy for a horrible situation in isolation, I questioned what my moral standards would be towards this person. It was hard to not feel angry and want to shun the person for their lack of judgment. It does not change a situation, but human nature is reactive. We want to punish the person for punishment they inflicted. Being humane was stretching my sense of compassion.
Through the media, I learned that Kevin Clash, of Sesame Street and the voice behind the muppet Elmo, was accused of having sex with a minor. That same minor, a day later, recanted his story. I had to ask myself if my opinion of the puppeteer had changed because of this accusation, not knowing whether he was innocent or guilty. Did people judge him for the accusation, or because of (as well as) his sexual orientation? We know him for Elmo, and for a driving force behind making Sesame Street so popular and accessible for the last 2 decades. It is hard to reconcile the innocence and goodness of what he envelopes with acts that may not be socially acceptable, especially if they did in fact infringe on the rights of a minor. Now further information has come to light: a further accusation was filed against Mr. Clash, and more may be pending. He has resigned from Sesame Street to deal with these personal circumstances.
Who we are as a person influences how we are as a professional, but do (or should) the two personas stand apart? I’m not saying what someone does in their personal life is irrelevant, but we judge based on what we know. If an individual’s personal life never intersects their professional life, our opinion doesn’t suffer either. There is no moral wrangling as we only know what we are allowed to see.
Having read these news stories and having experienced a sense of deception first-hand in my workplace, I’m less sure selective opinions are the most honest judgments. Is justice more important than mercy?