A Good Man Is(n't) Hard to Find
by Adam Kronk, Head of School
It’s bedtime in our household and as I’m tucking in Leo, our four-year-old, he asks me whether any bad guys will get him. Earlier that day, he had read a book about superheroes of some sort which pitted good guys against villains.
“There’s no such thing as bad guys, Leo,” I hear myself assuring him. “Sometimes people do bad things, but the world isn’t really divided up into good people and bad people.”
I look at his face to see whether he’s buying this argument. “Okay. But are the doors locked, Daddy?” He’s obviously worried about being safe and not curious about the nature of the human person. But after our goodnight routine (and a little reassurance from his six-year-old brother and bunkmate, Sorin), I walk down the hall wondering whether I believe what I had said to him. This parenting moment—so many are like this—had presented itself without warning, and my response was impromptu.
My sister, Carrie, did a report in middle school on Bill Cosby. The sitcom bearing his name was one of the very few we were allowed to watch as kids. Each episode imparted a moral, and the Huxtable children were, for the most part, respectful.
As a reward for a job well done on her project, Carrie got to go with my dad to see the comedian when his stand-up tour made a stop in Detroit. I remember the disappointment and regret on my father’s face when they walked in the door afterward—certain material Cosby had delivered was less wholesome than one would’ve guessed from his television persona.
Decades later, of course, crass jokes turned out to be the least of Bill Cosby’s transgressions. But I remember, when the stories about his abhorrent behavior broke, wondering whether his actions invalidated the good that came of the series he had made. Were the lessons I had learned from watching it (e.g., lying when you’re in trouble is the one thing guaranteed to get you into more trouble) no longer worth referencing? Would I ever let any of our four kids watch a rerun?
So much of what we read and watch sorts the world into good guys and bad guys, heroes and villains. I remember encountering the works of Graham Greene and being so refreshed and amazed when the nameless main character of The Power and the Glory, known only as the “whiskey priest,” brings about so much good while being so clearly broken and corrupted. As a reader, I couldn’t simply categorize the protagonist—I had to sit with his humanity, ugly as it was.
Empathy for that human complexity isn’t just missing from children’s books and action movies—it seems to be missing from everyday life. Think about the judgments we render as we comment on a juicy post about a celebrity’s misstep, the rumors we pass along without concern for their accuracy (much less the subject’s dignity), the broad brushstrokes we use to paint disparaging portraits of members of an opposing political camp. What about an adversary at work? A peer who has somehow been positioned in our life as our foe, for whatever reason? Are we up for doing the messy work of acknowledging the worth that he or she has—a worth exactly equal to our own?
The reality is that each of us is massively flawed in our own ways. If we can shake ourselves out of the autopilot “good-guy-bad-guy” mode long enough to see one another as creations of God, imperfectly but lovingly wrought, might we both benefit? What if we sought out the light in one another, made space in our interactions for humanizing one another instead of getting right down to business? Surely, it would take more time. Maybe we’d even get less done. To take this process seriously would necessitate slowing down the flow of things, asking more questions. But it’s probably worth a shot.
In education, we often talk about having a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed one—a belief that intelligence can be developed through effort rather than existing as a static trait. Imagine if we applied a growth mindset to the way we thought about the people in our lives.
Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying, “I do not like that man. I must get to know him better.” I think if we give it a try, we’ll realize, as I hope Leo already has, there aren’t as many “bad guys” out there as we might think.