We often overlook a truth about the human condition: that we are complex beings. In one moment we are capable of being saints, and in the next, sinners.
In May, a new biography, “Rising Star,” which offers insight into Barack Obama’s formative years, was released to the public. Uncharted territory about Obama’s love life came to light, and needless to say, the book caught some traction because the details were damning.
Sheila Miyoshi Jager laments the very rocky courtship, two proposals and final breakup with the man to whom most of us have ascribed a god-like status. The embittered end to the relationship is marred with questions of race, at one point claiming Obama had grappled with the optics of having a white girlfriend while attempting to capitalize on his race to win the African American vote.
These not-so-rosy details would not sit well with most people and are enough to send any Obama supporter out the door. But why should it matter that Obama made a mistake in the past? Why should that mistake be the defining chapter in a life that is filled with plenty of good?
Many titans have fallen because of a shortcoming, an error in judgment or even through none of their own doing. The public, to whom most of these famed folks dedicate their lives, is quick to drag their names through the mud, and soon enough they are forgotten; condemned to a life of shame and obscurity.
Think of the Tiger Woodses, Abby Wambachs, Lance Armstrongs and Kanye Wests of this world. Think of the pride and adulation these names were once associated with. Think too of the moment their actions were called into question. And think of the ferocity with which we lit the fire beneath their feet and burned them at the stake when they failed to abide by the commandments we set for them.
It is this rapid administration of justice that prompts some artists to exonerate themselves early enough in their works, vis-a-vis Kendrick Lamar, “When shit hit the fan, is you still a fan?”
Why are we so squeamish? Society has condemned us to a life of making checkboxes for anyone worth our dime. We are very quick to dismiss anyone who fails to meet our set standards. This is a testament to our narrow mindedness and inability to see the uniqueness and differences in other human beings. Failure to paint within the lines of our mental pictures is enough to cast aside fellow humans, other qualities they possess notwithstanding.
Perhaps we should lower our expectations about fellow man. This is not a call to rewrite the moral codes that have been our guiding light for ages. On the contrary, it would be a much worthier stance to recognize that we are all flawed, and the harder one looks, the likelier they are to expose chinks in any armor.
Applaud the ones who have the courage to open their lives to public scrutiny, and with the advent of technology, this could mean each and every one of us. When anyone’s character is found wanting, acknowledge that they are mistaken, but leave the next move to them.
After all, to err is human.