I’m here to tell you that I’ve been a bad person. I’ve done some things, some even many years ago, that I still think of with regret and that give me shame. I’ve hurt people, and sometimes even done so intentionally out of envy, anger, or pain.
But I’m not going to dwell on when I’ve been a bad person, because I’ve also been a good person. There is no such thing as the 100% bad guy or the 100% good guy. I think, philosophically speaking, we’re the sum of our actions or what we do habitually. I’m not habitually bad, and although I’ve done bad things, I try to make habits of doing good things. I think I’m a good person overall. I think Donald Trump is probably a bad person overall. I do however think nuance is important. I think we need to be able to recognize that one action doesn’t define someone (except in the case of rapists and murderers, I’m cool with defining them based on one action).
I wonder how many people like me struggle with beating themselves up over past actions. In some cases, I don’t even know what I’ve done wrong, but I know I’ve hurt people and they’re mad at me, and I go through periods where I agonize over it. In other cases, I’ve apologized several times, but I still can’t shake the shame because I feel like a bad act was an act of character. It takes realizing that these actions are out of character to forgive yourself, and I definitely have trouble doing that sometimes.
I feel like self-help gurus and people who make a living off of pitching quick fixes to issues of self say lines like “you have to forgive yourself,” or “you have to learn to love yourself before you love others.” It makes sense that they employ these lines because they’re true, but they’re not as easy as saying them, snapping your fingers, and then you’ve changed and love yourself and all is forgiven. It takes time, and it takes constantly reminding yourself that you’re worthy of love and of forgiveness. It takes looking at your flaws and constantly trying to hammer them out and improve, even when it’s hard. It takes talking to others who can help, whether that’s a therapist, friend, or family member, and being honest. You have to be honest with yourself and others about who you are in order to confront flaws or shortcomings and to accept past failures.
So, yes, I’ve been a bad person. But I’d be pretty upset if someone ever told me I’m still a bad person. I try hard every day to try to make the right decisions, the just decisions, and to advocate for people who need it. I’m not perfect, and I never will be.
I recently was called out by an Instagram follower for referring to a place as my personal Mecca. This follower was of the Muslim faith and said they found it disrespectful. At first, as I thought about it, I found it overly sensitive. After all, people say God damnit and Jesus Christ, and it seems more colloquial than a true aim at disrespect. But the more I thought about it, I realized my opinion doesn’t matter. Something we like to talk about in higher ed is impact vs. intention. My intention was irrelevant if the impact was negative. I was in the wrong, and I owned up to it.
This same person later posted on their “finsta” about the interaction with me, posting a screenshot of our interaction and calling out the behavior but somewhat commending me for owning up to it. At first, I was a bit embarrassed and hurt that the screenshot was posted, and I asked them to not use my photo for such things in the future. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought that if I want to be honest about my shortcomings and that I genuinely want to improve, maybe it’s a good thing to be publicly called out. I didn’t mean harm, but it showed that even though I hurt someone, I genuinely try to be as good of a person as I can.
I will hurt people in the future, probably both intentionally and unintentionally. I’ll continue to feel pangs of regret over the years and to need to make amends and ask for forgiveness, both of myself and others. However, I’ll be doing my best to avoid doing so, and I’ll be trying to forgive myself and be the best I can be in pursuit of making the sum of my actions positive and my habits true and just.
So, if you’re reading this and you’re beating yourself up, I hope it resonates a bit and you realize that you’re not a bad person. You mean well always, and that’s why your shortcomings haunt you. You’re trying to be good at all times, so when you don’t measure up, it hurts. The more your failures hurt you, it’s probably a good sign that you mean well generally. I like to think I do. Thanks for reading.