Who Are We to Judge?
By Isiah Smith | June 2, 2018
Who would want to be judged by the worse things they had ever done?
Who believes that it’s appropriate to condemn someone based solely on passionate allegations, and in the absence of other evidence?
Some allegations may well be (and are) accurate and sustainable. But isn’t it also likely, human nature being what it is, that at least some are not?
It started early with a trickle, and then became a steady stream. Gradually, it began to pour, and grew to a deluge, a downpour, and finally, a full-fledged tsunami, washing away everything in its path. High waves of denunciations and public shaming of prominent public figures became downright disorienting.
One moment Bill Cosby was being lionized as “America’s Dad,” a virtual paragon of virtue and an example of all that’s good in our world. The next moment, seemingly overnight, he turned into Public Enemy No. 1. Disputed evidence suggested that America’s Dad was, in fact, a carefully constructed false persona, and that Jell-O pudding was not all he was selling. Apparently, behind the genial mask lurked a sex-crazed monster, pushing drugs and himself on what seemed like an endless army of young women.
Then came Harvey Weinstein (no pun intended), a legendary Hollywood impresario who seemed to have forced himself on enough young starlets to exhaust the average red-blooded American male of a certain age.
Next came Matt Lauer, the long-serving face of “The Today Show.” Accounts of his hostile behavior made Weinstein seem underachieving and “low energy.”
Senator, Al Franken fell (prematurely) next. Russell Simmons, the hip-hop mogul, followed. The nebbish Woody Allen saw decades-old accusations of child molestation exhumed. Predictably, his movies were reappraised and reevaluated, and their values reduced to rubble. Actors from his films apologized for having done so. No word yet as to whether any of them returned the salaries Allen paid for their services.
Every day, the parade of bad male behavior continues with no apparent end in sight. Then comes the ritualistic shaming, followed closely by the attempted destruction of the bad boys’ records of past achievements. There are often no trials and no appeals. Decisions made by The Court of Public Opinion are final. The federal rules of evidence do not apply. And “innocent until proven guilty?” A silly technicality. Awards are revoked, and names removed from buildings and corporate Boards. Honorary degrees erased. Rehabilitation? Unlikely.
Ultimately, these disgraced men (it’s always men) are made to vanish from public view.
Following allegations of impropriety against Morgan Freeman, corporations began dropping him. His lifetime achievement award may not last his lifetime.
Junot Diaz’s writings may no longer merit the Pulitzer Award. In an (unrelated?) matter, the Nobel Prize Committee will not award the Nobel for literature this year. This may be out of shame for failing to award the late Philip Roth his well-earned Nobel. Unfortunately he didn’t play guitar or sing folk songs.
There’s a little sanctimony and hypocrisy at play here, and a bit of schadenfreude, as well, in the extravagant display of public outrage. None of us would ever conduct ourselves in this manner.
Perhaps we do protest too much.
Of course, all bad acts must be properly punished. Criminal acts should be subjected to proper legal process.
It is unfair, however to deny accomplishments, honors, and achievements properly earned, based on mere allegations. Shouldn’t we require proof before condemnation?
History teaches that “perfect” human beings never walked the Earth.
Consider Gandhi’s alleged habit of sleeping naked with little naked girls. At least one such child reported that sleep was not all they did. Should Gandhi’s Nobel be rescinded?
The great MLK, Jr. reputably smoked, drank, and spent quality time with women not named Coretta. But, oh, what a beautiful, inspiring dream he had!
JFK’s many extramarital activities make one wonder if he was as sick as his medical records indicated. How do we eradicate his achievements?
Albert Einstein treated his wives, one of whom was his cousin, horribly. His letters to one wife revealed a cruel list of marital requirements. Herr Professor was allegedly not given to bouts of fidelity.
Because, you see, it was only relative.
Picasso treated his two wives and a parade of other women poorly as well.
Miles Davis abused his wives and girlfriends almost as much as he abused himself. Yet, somewhere in the world, someone is buying, selling, or listening to “Kind of Blue.”
Thomas Jefferson bought and sold other human beings, some of whom were his offspring. It’s well established that he fathered children with Sally Heming, his underage sister-in-law. He also reportedly drank lots of wine and was always in debt.
Nonetheless, the Declaration of Independence is still compelling.
We erect statues to “heroes,” then are horrified to learn they were human after all. Then, the monuments have to go!
What are we to make of this?
Maybe the fault, as Shakespeare said, is not in the stars but in ourselves.
Maybe we demand perfection in others but exempt ourselves.
Maybe we judge others in order to hide our darkness from the light. Perhaps we do not acknowledge other people’s shortcomings so we won’t have to acknowledge ours.
So what’s the answer? I don’t know, but consider this:
Why not approach everyone with an open heart, patience and equanimity?
What if we learned to hate the sin yet love the sinner?
What if we admitted that all of us are all flawed, fallible human beings?
Maybe then we will become what Lincoln described on March 4, 1861, in his first inaugural address, as “the better angels of our nature.”
Isiah Smith Jr. is a former newspaper columnist for the Miami Times. He worked as a psychotherapist before attending the University of Miami Law School, where he also received a master’s degree in psychology. In December 2013, he retired from the Department of Energy’s Office of General Counsel, where he served as a deputy assistant general counsel for administrative litigation and information law. Isiah lives in Traverse City with his wife, Marlene.