I believe in the fallibility of human beings. But I also believe that people are basically good and striving to be better.
All too often I am tempted to judge those around me by a high moral standard that I habitually do not live up to myself. I rationalize these judgments by claiming that the offenders ought to know better, that their choices are clearly black or white, right or wrong. I rationalize these judgments by assuring my conscience that I would never find myself in such a morally compromised position. And yet, all too often, I do.
Up until recently, I had never given my grandmother’s life much thought. In my eyes, she was defined by her relationship to me. She is an eighty-five year old woman who spent her life as the copy editor of a small-town newspaper and the sole supporter of four children; my mother’s mother. But my grandmother, who always keeps a jar of Hershey’s kisses on her coffee table and gleefully hides tabloid magazines under her couch cushions, far from my mother’s disapproving eyes, was one of the first women in her neighborhood to divorce an alcoholic husband, a husband she dropped out of college to marry. And my grandmother was the talk of the supermarket when at the age of 40 she became pregnant out of wedlock and then gave the baby up for adoption because she could barely support the four children she already had.
Learning the story of my grandmother’s life has shown me what a remarkably strong woman she is. It has made me realize just how unreasonable it is to judge someone else’s actions by an impossible moral standard when you’ve only ever been on the outside looking in. Under different circumstances, I would have criticized a woman who abandoned her education to marry a dead-end husband or who became pregnant out of wedlock. But I have learned that the mistakes people make do not necessarily have to define or condemn them. How a person chooses to rectify his mistakes speaks much more to the type of person he is than the faults themselves do.
I am still learning how to expect the best, instead of the worst, out of people. I am still tempted to curse the car who cuts in front of me in the morning. But most days I stop myself by thinking, “I bet that person has had an awful morning and was so preoccupied with what the rest of the day would bring that they did not even see me there.” Because I believe that people are basically good and striving to be better.
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