I watched a documentary in which a man in prison tried to explain why he shouldn’t be judged for the horrific things he did to people.
I lived well for 40 years. I had eight days of insanity, and it isn’t fair I have to pay for that the rest of my life.
How we treat people matters through every time frame of our lives. We do some things wrong. We do some things right. We do the wrong things well and the right things poorly and vice versa. But it’s not a tally or weights and balances system.
I’m not going to say what should happen in the specific case of this man, but it pauses me because of how I might consider others when faced with the truth of how they have treated others. How we treat people matters. I hope this man has people in his life that love him through all the mess. I hope they help him process both the responsibility and the healing. I hope they encourage him in ways that admonish what he’s done, speak truth about his responsibility, and consistently point him in healthy next steps that keeps the past, as well as the present and future, in a context fused with wisdom. I hope the same things for every one of us.
How we treat people matters. What we say to others and what we say behind their backs matters. What our actions say that our words don’t matters. Most of us can say we haven’t done something to another person so horrible that we end up in prison for life, but let’s not let that be our measuring stick. Let’s not make it easy for ourselves. We can be better than lowering the bar. Let’s consider some too-common responses to others: manipulation, blatant disrespect, inappropriate blaming, or any type of emotional, physical, or spiritual harm. There is hope in every situation, but our patterns put those isolated moments in a broader context.
I’ve noticed a trend in our culture. Maybe it’s been there for a lot longer than I’ve realized, but it seems more rampant now. It seems to have seeped into the fabric of our character instead of being an exception.
We rationalize behaviors we should hold with responsibility. We want to balance what might be considered a misstep with the things we do well. We might mistreat one person, but we move on, and our daily life doesn’t reveal that same trait. Perhaps many people don’t even know. Or perhaps we just avoid the majority of the people who know. Over time, we can more easily dismiss our past actions, because we don’t face them every day. We haven’t tried to heal a fracture, because we are okay without the interaction. But what we don’t realize is we are fractured, too. We might not feel it. It might have healed for the most part, but did it heal well? We wonder why we’d attempt to fix what isn’t broken, but we might not realize the effects the original brokenness had.
So, we build ourselves up on the things we’ve done well. We focus on the healthy relationships we have now. And it is indeed important to move forward—but we will only be healthy for ourselves and others when we’re honest with our past.
In some cases, we’ve done our best to deal with the missteps we’ve made. We apologized. We established better patterns. But we don’t forget the past. In fact, it is the memories of those moments, the impact they had on us and others, and the scars we now see that keep us healthy. The way we deal with the past and the humility with which we handle it over time is what makes our todays healthy. We can attempt to be healthy from the inside out, which takes constant attention and a willingness to have difficult conversations at times, be available to others as they heal, and consider the ongoing need for growth. Or we can step out of the mess we helped create and let the mess dry and the stench weaken on our shoes, pointing to the situation as “their” fault when we know better. We just don’t want to admit it.
Every single one of us needs to admit it. What if we refuse to reject responsibility and overshadow the bad by pointing out our good? What if we attend to any hint of manipulation, disrespect, inappropriate blaming, and any type of emotional, physical, or spiritual harm we’ve been a part of to any degree?
Can you imagine?
I can. And it starts with me and you. Let’s do this together.