LETTER TO THE EDITOR: We must claim responsibility for both positive, negative actions
In response to Malachi Randolph's recent letter to The Daily News and the Muncie Star Press.
Behind all actions — constructive achievements and destructive exploits alike — are people: individuals who make decisions, voice opinions and consciously interact with the world around them.
We are all too quick to claim responsibility for our positive actions, those that bring affirmation, acclaim and a sense of accomplishment. I know I at least keep at least four different versions of my resume handy on my desktop at all times, along with letters of recommendation and anything else that reminds me of the good work I have done.
We cling to these triumphs as a reflection of who we are, a laundry list of our self-worth and definition. Doing so is not prideful or wrong, it is simply how we prove to ourselves and others where we are and where we have been in our personal journey to fulfillment. Every job, award, scholarship or acknowledgement of any kind we earn is a result of people judging us based on the merits of our previous actions and how they fit within the contexts of our environment. We cash our paychecks and receive our golden plaques without complaining about how it is unfair that our personal gain is subject to the critical assessments of others.
However, as soon as a person uses her power of evaluation to question, critique or even condemn our actions we seek to distance ourselves. Not only do we not keep a running resume of our mistakes, we implore those around us not to either. We ask them to forget, to gloss over, to ignore. Those who do not we call judgmental, intolerant predators hunting for the next witch to burn.
Fair enough, I suppose. But how can we expect to be viewed as a whole individual, when we ourselves fight to cover up half of who we are? If I can’t stand accountable for my many errors, then I do not deserve to stand up and accept my many awards. We, and no one else, are behind our words and our actions.
While it is true that no one should be reduced to one single decision, moment of poor judgement or unfortunate behavior, such information must be taken into account when constructing our understanding of that individual. A speeding driver is given a ticket, a faithless husband is met with divorce papers, a murderer must contemplate the consequences of her momentary lapse in judgment from the confines of a jail cell until her death.
I am not guiltless, nor am I throwing stones. Nor should we live in fear of making mistakes — for I agree with my hero Oscar Wilde that “experience is simply the name we give our mistakes" — but perhaps we should contemplate how such “experience” will affect the reputation of our name. For no action, positive or negative, is — nor should it be — without its consequences. Asking people to judge us on our merits and ignore our shortcomings when considering our suitability for an elected office, position of employment or prestigious award is not only unfair, but unethical and against Newton’s third law of motion. We cannot deny, dismiss or discourage the equal and opposite reaction to our mistakes.