What brutal disillusionment to discover that someone whose writing I admire does not walk the talk. Last week I mentioned Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card on my blog about cross-cultural understanding; and the very next day, when the trailer for the film of his book Ender’s Game came out, I learned that Card is a rabid homophobe who has used his millions to bankroll the NOM (National Organization for Marriage) campaign to kill pro-gay-marriage legislation. I still struggle to believe that the same man who wrote the final pages of Speaker for the Dead has such a narrow view when it comes to gay rights, i.e., human rights. It serves as a reminder for me that we humans are extremely flawed creatures; full of contradictions, disappointingly limited, and still evolving in so many ways.
I always feel blindsided when I learn that an athlete or performer I admire has done or said some boneheaded foolish thing. For instance, I was shocked and saddened when Michael Vick was busted for dogfighting. And I have been, over the years, so torn when I learned that a writer who writes beautifully and intelligently has backward-thinking or destructive socio-political views. Like Card. I feel bad when I discover that someone who acts wise and true in their public role is a bad parent, a hurtful spouse, a person who treats others badly in their personal life. I once discovered that a man who owned a visionary progressive business acted like a nasty corporate moneygrubber when it came to his dreadful labor practices. How can these things be? And yet it happens every day.
I remember a story told to me by a college friend in the 1970s. A few years earlier she was working at a job in New York when she and one of her co-workers took a couple of hours off to go see that horrifying documentary about the Holocaust called Night and Fog. After watching the film, she and her co-worker returned to work in tears. A motherly older woman worked with them. She baked them cookies and gave lots of hugs and provided a sympathetic ear for the disturbances of their young lives. They adored her. When they came back to the workplace weeping, she wrapped them in her arms. My friend explained to her that they had just viewed a film about the concentration camps and the annihilation of the Jews during the war. “Yes,” the woman responded sweetly as she patted their hands and offered them chocolate, “so terrible. It’s such a shame they didn’t manage to kill all of those dirty Jews.” The kindly older woman was a German immigrant, a former Nazi. My friend quit her job on the spot and never returned.
When I think of some of the things I have said and done, particularly in my youth, I cringe. My failures. My mistakes. I have always been so self-critical that I find it hard to forgive myself for these things. Even decades later. But we are all flawed. Those I love have hurt me, both purposefully and by accident. And I have hurt them. Some people in my life for whom I care deeply I have held at arm’s length because of my difficulty coping with their flaws and failures, their human frailty. And my inability to cope is another flaw of mine. I try to be compassionate and forgiving. I try to cut people some slack. I have my own limitations to manage, and how much I can handle from people I find difficult is part of that. So here we are together, trying to make a go of it. It’s important to remember that we are, all of us, flawed creatures. We have much capacity for good, much capacity for bad, and much capacity for something in between. Tread softly.