Wendy Kalman
There are many ways to see and understand

Good guys, bad guys

Photo of broad brushstrokes taken from: https://morguefile.com/photos/morguefile/1/paint%20brush/pop. Photographic credit goes to bhjoco (www.balazshegedus.com).
Photo of broad brushstrokes taken from: https://morguefile.com/photos/morguefile/1/paint%20brush/pop. Photographic credit goes to bhjoco (www.balazshegedus.com).

If you read the news or go online, you’ve seen how politicians, celebrities, athletes, policemen and everyday people caught on video are often described as bad or as good.

I actually have an issue with labelling anyone as good or bad. Let me explain why.

We are each complex individuals capable of sometimes making better decisions and sometimes making poorer ones. Now, the frequency of that “sometimes” may lean in more one direction than another, but when you label someone as bad, you actually in a way absolve him or her of the responsibility for making those poorer choices. It is as if the person can’t help it. (It’s the same problem I have with ascribing poor decisions to the yetzer hara, the evil inclination. After all who makes your decisions? You!)

As well, and equally problematic, is that when you are labelling someone (and this goes for any category or judgement), you are flattening the person to two dimensional. We are not any one of our categories or affiliations — not just Jewish or female or a New Yorker or short or hard of hearing — but a sum of all that and much, much more. To categorize me as any one thing is to deny me he rest of who I am. So it is with calling someone good or bad.

This is not to excuse the poor choice or the series of choices, but just to point out why I can’t abide by calling people good or bad.

It goes back to the parenting books I read by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish when my children were little. In Avoiding Parenting Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Too,, in particular, the parenting advice given was more interested in the impact on a child when you label him or her. If you call one child organized or artistic, then the other is not, and has no impetus to become better organized or artistic or whatever. Different angle, but same concept — no one has a monopoly on any characteristic and no one should be judged or characterized by it alone.

Labelling also posits that people are static and unable to change or to grow. (Have you even seen the British Up documentary series? I’d actually only seen 7-Up, 14-Up and 21-Up, back when I lived in Israel in the 1990s, but remember thinking as I watched the children grow into young adults how fascinating it was as the director interviewed the same group of people, every seven years. What I saw and understood was though we are a lot of who we are and that remains constant, external events are among those things that can impact and change us.

People can change. It may not seem so in this day and age of digging in heels and ignoring facts but they can.

When you label and judge you not only deny them that opportunity, you fail to recognize that your judgement is not reflective of the truth but of your desire to justify your judgements. Or to discount entire swaths of people.

So, let’s stop calling people good and bad. And, instead of painting them with broad brushstrokes, offer them a hand to make better decisions.

About the Author
Born in Brooklyn and raised on Long Island, Wendy lived in Jerusalem for over a decade submerged in Israeli culture. Since returning to the U.S. in 2003; she has been soaked in Southern life in metro Atlanta. An Ashkenazi mom to Mizrahi sons born in Israel and the US, MIL to a DIL born in France and a step mom to sons born in the South, she celebrates trying to see from multiple perspectives and hope this comes out in her blogs. Wendy recently completed two master's degrees in public administration and integrated goblal communication, while also splitting her time between her research position at the Center for Israel Education, taking a grad school class on conflict management, digging deep into genealogy while bringing distant family together and spending too much time on Facebook. All of this is to say, Wendy's life has brought her to the widened framemwork she uses for her blogs: there are many ways to see and understand.