12/23/14

Two (More) Wrongs Don't Make a Right . . .


We used to have heroes. They were groups of people (we can probably just say "men" because most institutions we held in esteem were all-boy clubs) that we just presumed were full of admirable, professional, responsible members. 

I'm talking about politicians, the military, teachers, the clergy, fire fighters, cops, parents, etc. 

We held them in high regard and no one who wasn't on the inside and who didn't have direct knowledge dared say anything bad about them. We were beyond reproach and besmirch. It was a lovely few hundred years of us simple civilians believing that these groups and collections and forces were all for good and were all for the betterment of us - that they were there to protect and honor us and to keep us safe.

Then something happened. The walls started to fall and the mirror got toothpaste splatter on it and the whispers turned to normal, inside, speaking voices and the number of voices grew until they sounded like outside voices and, before long, we were screaming and yelling like a mother on the beach warning her son of a shark 100 yards out in to the ocean. 

Those we used to put so much faith in fell. Hard. Before long there seemed to be no good in some of them and the incidents where the lesser demons had won out became the benchmark and the accepted standard. Before long every priest was a pedophile, every politician a liar, every soldier and psycho, every cop a racist, etc. 

The voices that defended the individuals or the groups became quieter as they were shouted down and pointed at and mocked. The "obvious" rebuttal being that to defend the collective is to empower the outlier and to do that is tantamount to encouraging bad behavior. A sad day indeed as all the town's stuff and joy had been gathered up by the Grinch. 

I'm going to argue we are better off with the talking and the dialogue. I would never want to live in a world where people do horrible things and are protected and given the "thumbs up" because, well, it is a fluke or it is not something regular or it is presumed to have been provoked.

I lost faith in the Catholic Church at around the age of 24. I was in mass one Sunday and, despite more and more coverage of and confirmation of abuse within the Catholic Church in diocese like Boston, etc. the priest chose to spend his homily/sermon talking about the evils of homosexuality. The hypocrisy of it all drove me out of my pew and out the backdoor of the church and I could still hear his tone-deaf words as I stomped down the stairs to the street. 

I decided I hated the Catholic Church. Then I remembered, on my walk home, all the wonderful things that church had. My parents. My brothers (neither of whom now celebrate but that did). My best friends from college - including my Jewish roommate who went to mass with us every Sunday. My college priest. A priest who was my father's best friend. Other priests who have inspired me over the years. Friends from school. Their families. It took me six city blocks to decide that Catholics were not the trouble - hypocrisy within it was my issue. 

I apply that same logic, to this day, to any scandal that bubbles up. I have to believe there are millions more "good" civil servants with badges, guns, firehoses, election mandates, and commanding officers out there than "bad". I trust that the vast majority of those people chose to do what they do to serve and to improve the lives of the community and its members. I won't accept that the institutions are broken. I won't be so glib as to think there are not changes needed, policies missing, due process being skirted, and horrible acts going unchecked. 

What happened in Brooklyn on Saturday was a true tragedy. No one benefits. A misguided, angry man killed two cops who - as far as I have seen/read - were never even accused of any wrongdoing while behind the badge and then he killed himself. What has happened since those shots were fired is perhaps worse. The shootings - and the protest of them - is being held as an apples-to-apples comparison to incidents were police have killed civilians (there are a million reasons why they are not, in any way, the same crime). The fingers of blame have been pointed. The act, the response, etc. have all been politicized. The response has been, frankly, muted. 

Sure, sure - there are whispers of it. Maybe the timing (the week of Christmas when we chose to focus on happy, upbeat things) played a role. I fear that we have reached a point where people are closing their eyes, covering their ears, and hoping that the violence and the hate and the anger - on every side of the melee - simply stops. 

There is no more benefit in that than the chaos of today that we should wrestle through. Just wishing it all away will take us back to a day when we, errant-ly, presumed that everything was right in the world and that power was never abused - or worse - it will leave us thinking that power, and those who have it, are never used the right way or that we can't admire those who have and hold and use authority.