How hard can it be to find one good thing?
I’ve been working through a great summer read written by the highly unassuming author of the semi-famous Bangor Maine Police Department’s Facebook Page - Timothy Cotton. I say I’m working through only because my own time constraints have prevented me from breezing through said book. Cotton’s writing style and use of short story format makes this one easy to devour on a rainy day and we haven’t seen many of those this summer.
Any alliterative allegations against his allegiance to his allies can be put out to pasture by perusing the poignant passages where Cotton winds wisdom with weather to deftly depict life as a Mainer.
Homage to the author aside, part of the book is his own admission that his career has been largely successful not because of (and perhaps in spite of) his talent for concentrating on evidential detail but rather his ability to converse about the more mundane details of life with the most unlikely characters. Cotton attributes his ability to rouse a confession from said “ne'er do wells” to the fact that he can find something good about each person he encounters. In many cases he latched onto that one good component and used it to launch a conversation rather than an interrogation.
Anyone who’s ever been in any kind of trouble should know it’s much easier to confess wrongdoing to someone you trust than an authoritative figure who’s already decided your actions define the kind of person you are. Finding the good in someone, despite specific actions, is key to building rapport. That’s what I’m talking about here.
This weekend Brian and I taught a CCW class to a great group of people (yes they paid for the class but they didn’t pay me to say that, they really were great to work with). As we discussed reading body language, use of the interview stance, and handling people who violate our personal bubbles, one student was called out by her (loving and supportive) husband as being the type of person who sees the good in everyone. His concern for her is that she won’t see danger coming quickly enough because she’s already assumed the person approaching her is there for something good - or at least not something bad.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with being the kind of person who sees the good in everyone. Her outlook on life reminded me of Sgt Cotton’s confession. Here was another person who lives her life finding the good in people. Maybe she isn't doing it as consciously, and maybe she needs to add a touch of skepticism for balance, and maybe we could all use a little balancing.
So this morning as I skimmed through the general nonsense on Facebook (looking for something good) I stopped to read a post by another author I enjoy following. Sean Dietrich offers a perspective on similarly mundane topics with similarly enlightening stories. I won’t repost the whole thing but you can link to it here for reference. In general, his tale this morning involved a cold beer with a stranger while waiting for some takeout food. This stranger asked Sean if he could back up his written claim that he loves everyone. Every person who has done, thought, committed horrible things. Everyone through history who has decimated an entire population for some inadequate reason. Everyone who has ever personally wronged the author at hand. Could Sean seriously and honestly say that he loved those people?
Having endured the stranger’s antagonistic prodding with humility and resolve, Sean replied finally that yes. Yes he could honestly say that at the end of the day he could love those people.
I think his answer hits home with any parent or grandparent or sister who has ever continued to love a child or grandchild or brother in spite of their horrible actions. I don’t mean that time your toddler drew the pretty house with a tree and a smiling sun on the wall behind the laundry room door and you didn’t find it for a good 3 years because who ever closes that door while inside the laundry room? I mean the time your grandson broke into your house and stole your grandmother’s heirloom jewelry so he could sell it for drug money to support his habit. I’m talking about the brother of a woman convicted for killing her own children because she couldn’t see another way out of an abusive relationship with their father.
At the end of the day, someone still loves them.
I’ve heard a lot of good preachers talk about loving the sinner and hating the sin. That’s what Sean’s talking about. I think that’s the key Cotton has managed to use to turn countless encounters with not-so-law-abiding citizens from confrontation to conversation. I think that’s what drives that student in our class to first see everyone as a good person - maybe even the ones who have done bad things.
Do your actions define you? I probably don’t know you but statistically speaking I’m rather confident in saying there are things you have done that you aren’t proud of. Maybe things you’ve never brought to light, but then again maybe you have. Either way, I bet someone knows about them, someone besides you. So you did some things that could be categorized as bad things. Maybe really bad things. Do they make you a bad person? At what point do actions override the good - and the person becomes bad?
In the world where we live today social media has given all people a stage. Anyone can join in, postulate, pontificate, proliferate, and opine. A person can choose to reply to the statements of others with favor, sadness, hilarity, or anger. A group of ten can influence the masses with well turned phrases of partial truths and outright lies. Who can judge? Who among you knows the truth, the whole truth, and will relay nothing but the truth when you choose what to share?
In this world of digitized reality our information has never come at us so quickly - or so inaccurately. When breaking news hits you can hear the same story end six different ways depending which network you follow and at what point you join in the witch hunt.
Loving someone in spite of their actions is the epitome of following Christ. It doesn’t mean you condone the wrong doing. It doesn’t mean you encourage, enable, or enforce the aberrant behavior. Loving the person and hating the sin are not mutually exclusive processes. In fact with a little thought you might realize they have to coexist for either of them to be true at all.
Media - social or otherwise - would have you believe that the people they report on are either good or bad. Black and white are no longer boxes you check on the SAT form, they are now the only options when it comes to sorting through the people with whom we inhabit this planet. Black/White. Good/Bad. Right/Wrong. The society we find ourselves slugging thought nearly demands that you take a side and embrace or condemn people. Failure to do so is unacceptable, but so is disagreement with the establishment. Or agreeing with it. Who even knows?
In the few short years I’ve been riding this rock around the sun I’d like to think I’ve gotten a little wiser than I was when I started. It seems to me that when I look at PEOPLE especially from a distance or through a screen it’s easy to make a judgement call and apply a label. Murderers. Rapists. Religious zealots. Politicians. Rednecks. Rich stiffs. White trash.
When I look at a PERSON up close and without the blur of a camera lens or monitor glow it’s actually easier to see their flaws. That’s a side effect of closing the distance and peering at a thing without distractions.
Like glancing out the window at a wide open field and imagining that’s what Heaven must be like - cool breezes, green grass, blue skies - only to find the cool breeze can only be present with impending rain or the shift to a colder season, the grass has to be tangled with weeds to shine that brightly green, and the blue skies are only so blue when held against the sharp contrast of the thickest clouds.
It’s also easier to see that amidst those flaws there is a person. A person with dreams. A person with tears. A person that someone loves. A person much like the person sitting on this side of the safety offered by a computer screen. Yup - that kind of person.
I don’t think it’s actually that hard to find one good thing. In fact I think it takes no time at all to find many good things when we take the time to pick the PERSON apart from the PEOPLE. If it takes weeds to make my grass green, so be it. If it takes clouds to make my sky shine blue, let’s have it. If it takes a closer view to help me see the PERSON apart from the PEOPLE then God, help me get there.
I also think I did a poor job letting our student know that her ability to see that good so readily… well it made me pause. I will admit I felt just a little bit of envy at that. The world will do its level best to keep us from seeing the person.
It’s up to us - as persons ourselves - to find the good.
PS - You really should check out The Detective in the Dooryard. If you don't know what a dooryard is you should make friends with a native of the great state of Maine.