Who is a nice human being?


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?


16 thoughts on “Who is a nice human being?

  1. Quinoa,
    It’s a very interesting topic. I’m always reminded of Woody Allen, who must be one of my key influences as a humourist. As an artist, I love the man, and his work, more so his earlier stuff. As a man, from what mainstream media promotes, I am not sure I love the man. It’s a challenge to separate one’s personal life with his public/artist persona. But it is the holidays, and I wish them all some peace and solace.
    Le Clown

    • Le Clown,
      We generally tend to overlook what we hear/read from media when it pushes on our moral buttons. It doesn’t affect us directly so we don’t need to respond. We can appreciate art, without having to appreciate the person.
      We all could use more peace and solace. And at this time of year, the cheer is important to share.

  2. That’s a hard question – justice vs mercy. It’s based on the individual circumstances, in my opinion. The Myers Briggs looks a a similar question. I don’t think it’s an all or nothing kind of world –

    We all judge – it’s just the way we are as humans – but we need all the information like you noted… and sometimes we get it and sometimes we don’t.

    • I think individual circumstances are key to making our decisions. Sometimes people want to make sweeping judgments because it fits into ‘their’ world better, and it’s easier than having to question their own moral sense. Judgment (for good or bad) is how we navigate the world. And like you say, sometimes we know more and sometimes we know less.

  3. It’s a thought-provoking post. It reminds me of being a kid and having an idol, whether it be a singer or sports star, then finding out they’re jerks in real life. I think it’s very hard to separate the talent from the character. That story about the BBC show host, Jimmy Saville comes to mind.

    • I also think it’s hard to separate out talent from character. Often extraordinary talent is also exaggerated imbalance. I find that the less directly we are affected, personally, the easier it is to compartmentalize our feelings for the person. We can enjoy their art, talent, ability, without having to wrangle with how their personal lives impact us.

  4. Ideally, we should be able to segregate the artist and the delinquent. Picasso come to my mind. But I guess we are humans, after all. And the heinous acts must not go unpunished. As for the art, well, we may need to suspend our faculty of disbelief a bit harder.

    • I think the segregation is easier when we are not directly affected by the delinquent side of a personality. If what someone else does in their private life does not affect us, we can be free(er) to appreciate their art. However, some people have very strong feelings and this goes to the core of their morals. They cannot see the art without it representing the morals they so abhor and so need to completely separate themselves from this.
      Our suspension of disbelief is so common in our lives, these days. I’m sure it happens more often than we admit.

  5. These are all tough questions with no easy answers. We’ve all known people who’ve done questionable things that don’t jive with our perception of them. A friend in my previous running group was caught by his wife soliciting women on the internet. Of course it destroyed their marriage, but it also split apart our group of friends, with each person taking sides. Friendships were destroyed. As a woman, I personally struggled with what he had done and questioned whether to remain his friend or not. Did his actions mean he couldn’t still be our friend?

    • It’s hard when one person’s actions splits a group of friends. There is a sense of black and white justice and that maintaining a friendship is akin to support or deception (depending on which side you are on).
      I have a hard time knowing what to do myself: it may be a one-time instance, but I think my caveat is that if someone has learned from their transgression, than at least they have bettered their moral compass. If the instance is easy to ‘sweep away’ and excuse themselves from it, than I see that this behavior may eventually transpire into other parts of their lives. If nothing is learned, it almost makes it seem acceptable.

  6. I don’t think the world is so black and white, and it’s hard to judge people on an isolated incident. This doesn’t mean I want to surround myself with people just to “have mercy” on them, but I do have compassion under certain circumstances.

    I’ve done things in my life I’m not proud of, but that person isn’t who I am anymore. They aren’t terrible, but they’re things I wish I hadn’t done. I would hope a morally superior person wouldn’t judge me based on those things.

    • It’s so true that the world is not just black and white. My morals fluctuate a long way towards forgiveness. I guess I draw the line at moral responsibility for one’s actions. If you can take ownership for something, no matter how heinous, I can appreciate that you understand repercussions. I personally have a hard time when someone’s actions harm another person, or thing, or property, and then the responsibility is ignored or deflected.
      Sure we’ve all done things we are not proud of in our lives, but I think crimes against another person don’t often rate high among those common occurrences.

      • I’m 100% with on accountability and responsibility. And no, the crimes against another are very low on the list, and not something I’ve personally done. I do wonder what that tipping point is though, and try to understand. Sometimes it’s beyond my level of comprehension, and only then do I think I am unable to forgive.

  7. Pingback: What Is The Value Of A Human Life? « THE SCARECROW

  8. Tough question.
    I think mercy should be shown for what he’s done as Elmo, but the victims (if he is guilty) are definitely entitled to justice.
    And a perpetrator shouldn’t expect to be safe from judgement of their private life based on the accomplishments of their public lives.

    • I agree: when there is a specific crime there needs to be justice served for this.

      I find it’s a tough call because you are judging only on what you know, and sometimes you know very little and are blind to facts that would otherwise change your mind.

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