I’m in no way suggesting I’m in a place to advice how others should think or behave. Only, today, three articles caught my eye – all at different times of the day and brought to my attention by different people. (Actually, one I spotted while I was procrastinating.) And reading them made me think. The articles are:
1) The Friend Zone Isn’t a Thing and Women Don’t Owe You Shit on Vice, which details why the idea of the “Friend Zone” we’ve become so accustomed to, which is the idea that a man/woman being regarded as “just a friend” by their object of affection regardless of how many kind and caring gestures they may exhibit is unfair, is complete hogwash.
2) Brazilian goalkeeper charged with torture and murder of ex-girlfriend – ‘Mistakes happen. I’m not a bad guy’ on The Independent, about Brazilian soccer player, Bruno Fernandes de Souza, who was released from prison last month after serving six years and seven months of his 22-year sentence. Time he was sentenced to after being convicted of ordering the torture and murder of then-25-year-old Eliza Samudio. Her remains were then mutilated and fed to dogs.
His brilliant response to the outrage that followed his release: “People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude”.
3) These Women Found Out Their Male Friend Was Posting Their Photos And Information On 4chan on Buzzfeed, about five women who confronted one man, who was their common link, after all of them experienced a surge in Snapchat requests to add/be added by strangers. As it turns out, their common link, Ren Bostelaar, had posted their usernames to a 4Chan thread that was basically “where users shared tips on where to find nude images of women. It was ‘more or less “sluts to easily get nudes from and send dick pics to”‘” kind of thread.
After being confronted by all five of his victims, Bostelaar apologised to them in their private group chat, and later posted a public apology on his Facebook. There are further details to this story, but I’m not going to go into it. The relevant pieces are all linked above.
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Here is what gets me: there is a common sentiment that’s a foul and hurtful thread running through all three of those stories. That sentiment being, “despite XYZ, I’m a good person.”
Now, I realise that women are just as capable as men of being indecent or even evil people, but since all of the articles I’ll be discussing involve men as the aggressor, let’s just, for now, take the perspective that men are more often the perpetrators of the sentiment than women. I know that’s not true, because in the same way not all men are bad, not all women are good.
Men who claim to be “friend zoned” are saying, ‘other than the fact that I expect women I’m nice to to reciprocate in the way I want, whether that is with affection, their time, attention or sex, I’m not a bad person.’
Bruno Fernandes de Souza is saying, “I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happen in life – I’m not a bad guy.”
People like Ren Bostelaar is saying, ‘I made a mistake, but I have the decency to apologise, I’m not a bad person.’
With Bostelaar, I’ll give him credit for apologising. The fact that he waited till he was confronted by multiple women with damning evidence is, clearly, not ideal. But the fact he didn’t stop at “I’m sorry” but also took the time to self-analyse to find out what made him do such a thing, and set up a plan to become a better person to whom committing such an act would not even occur, I feel…well, it doesn’t excuse him. Not by a long shot. But I also don’t want to be judge and executioner when I don’t know the man. There has to be, I feel, the hope that men and women can move forward and be better. Which still wouldn’t erase their past, but at least it changes their future and the future of the people around them compared to if they hadn’t moved forward at all. Does that make sense?
Back to the point: it is not good enough to expect your flaws, mistakes, crimes, bigotry, racist, sexist, or any other deplorable acts or characteristics excused because, “overall, I’m not a bad person.”
Having the determination to start over doesn’t make you “not a bad guy”. You say people tried to bury your dreams, but you didn’t even leave your victim’s loved ones a body to bury. You say you asked your God for forgiveness but I wonder if you looked Eliza Samudio’s parents in the eyes and asked for their forgiveness.
Owning up to having violating the privacy and trust of people who had faith in you to be a decent human being and apologising publicly doesn’t mean you’re “not a bad person.” At most, it means you’re somewhat less bad than the person who did whatever warranted an apology, because you recognise your actions were unacceptable. Apologising and owning up to your shit is the right thing to do; it’s the only thing to do. You don’t get points for doing the right thing that you should be doing all along. So you also don’t get points for owning up, as you damn well should, to doing something you shouldn’t have been doing in the first place.
All your “kind” gestures don’t make you a “good person” when what you expect in return places your self-imposed guidelines on another’s behaviour and freedom. You’re not a good person for all those nice gestures when the gestures are nice but the motivation and intention behind them is saturated with your sense of entitlement. You don’t get something from someone just because you want it.
Judging whether someone deserves a second chance is entirely dependent on what they did and a whole host of other things, so I’m not going to give a blanket statement for when someone should be looked upon with hope or when others should be condemned for life. Thought, with the latter, I should hope a standard moral compass will guide the way.
What I think is important is to stop hiding behind, “but overall, I’m a nice person.” That makes it so easy to brush our mistakes, flaws, vices and transgressions under the rug. Our immorality is not less significant when weighed against our virtues, and one does not cancel out the other. Our morality is neither a pair of scales, nor a spectrum. It’s a tangled mess inside each of us we have to sort out. That’s our individual responsibility and not the work of anyone else in our lives.
I’m a person with as many virtues as flaws. (Hell, perhaps more flaws than virtues!) I’m a work in progress. I’ve done things to people in my life which cost me their trust, friendship, affections…the list goes on. I expect to be treated accordingly for how I’ve treated the people in my life. I have a horrible, horrible temper – and I’ve lashed out at people I love, people I work with, and people I work with who I love. I always follow it up with an apology, never with the expectation to be forgiven – but, so far, I’ve been lucky and they’ve found it in their hearts to forgive me.
Tough love: our faults are not lovable and they’re not acceptable. But what is more unacceptable is the expectation that they can be excused by virtue of our comparatively better qualities.
As individuals, I feel we need to stop making excuses for ourselves. And as a society, we need to stop making excuses for wrongdoers. We need to stop accepting “overall, I’m a good person” as good enough.
It’s not good enough.