Deliver me from writers who say the way they live
doesn't matter. I'm not sure a bad person can write a good book. If art
doesn't make us better, then what on earth is it for.
— Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple
What makes someone a "bad person?
If you attend Princeton, and go on their on-line
dictionary, the definition of the phrase "bad person" is "one who does harm to
Farlex Inc.'s "Free Dictionary" online uses exactly the same description.
Should I want, for any reason, to hear the phrase as well as the definition
(still exactly the same, by the way: "one who does harm to others") I can go to AudioEnglish.com and improve my
diction while learning definitions to pesky, subjective concepts like this.
I believe that there are no "bad people," merely bad acts, and that we are
all the sum total of our acts, bad and good. But let's get back to a
discussion of the three popular definitions above.
"Harm" is a pretty broad concept. I guess I'm a bad person if I steal
the stapler off of a co-worker's desk. Am I a "badder" person if I steal my
co-worker's Social Security Number and take out $250,000 in credit card debt
in his/her name and ruin them financially for ostensibly the rest of their life?
Both the stealing of the stapler and the credit card fraud do harm, not only to
my co-worker but also, in the case of the stapler, to our corporation. In the
case of the credit card fraud, harm is done to my co-worker, the credit card
companies and their insurers who must absorb or pay the loss in the event my
co-worker is covered against fraud.
Oh, I forgot the harm perpetrated on the public in general; because
if it weren't for stupid perpetrators of credit-card fraud like myself, we all
wouldn't have to recite certain personal information, last four residence addresses,
PIN number, mother's maiden name, and cat's sexual preference whenever a
merchant calls them up to find out why they declined a charge, and they explain
it was "for your own safety" merely because we bought gas at one place and then
went shopping 20 miles away.
AudioEnglish went as far as to offer up hyponyms for the entire spectrum of
bad people, including but not limited to:
offender, wrongdoer — a person who transgresses moral or civil
varmint; vermin — an irritating or obnoxious person.
snake; snake in the grass — a deceitful or treacherous person
debauchee; libertine; rounder — a dissolute person; usually a man
who is morally unrestrained
seducer — a bad person who entices others into error or wrongdoing
Wait! Stop right there! Those last two are of great interest to me.
Is Hugh Hefner a "Bad Person?"
Look at "debauchee" above. Hugh Hefner's sexual antics are the stuff of
legend, therefore making him "morally unrestrained" in the eyes of some.
However, is he a "bad person?" Well, it depends upon whom you ask. Ask any man
who spent his pubescence stealing glimpses at Mr. Hefner's publication
and the glories of the scantily-clad feminine form contained therein, and
they'll think that old Hef is a hell of a great guy.
Now, ask my dear great-aunt Minerva, who led a chaste life, never marrying,
doing God's work, working for The Salvation Army, and going to
church every Sunday and bible study on at least one weekday, and she'd tell you
that Hefner and all of his followers are doomed to spend an eternity in Hell,
with the fire melting the skin off their flesh over and over again. Minerva
refused an invitation to the nightclub I worked at years ago in New York City,
dismissing it as a "den of hedonism." Did I mention Minerva never took a sip
of alcohol in her life?
Hefner also counts as a "seducer," I guess. Unless all those girls who live
in the Playboy mansion just showed up at the door one day and said "Say, can I
have a place to crash for a little while?" I doubt it. I'd hazard a guess that
Mr. Hefner asked each and every one politely to be his guest. In fact, I'm
pretty sure that he has asked quite a few more than the young ladies who
currently reside with him; but in fact has endured a few refusals of his kind
Forgiveness as a Vehicle to Cope With Bad People
On the other side of the coin, there are priests who spend their lives
working with the most hardened criminals. I know one. He is certain that if
these men accept Jesus Christ as their savior, they will be able to spend the
rest of eternity with God in Heaven upon their demise. My friend, the priest,
said to me one day that he couldn't do the work he does if he couldn't forgive
each and every one of these convicts for their crimes.
Indeed, he says that he's forgiven a man who killed a husband and wife in
their jewelry store merely because they didn't unlock the display cases fast
enough. Me, I'd find it hard to forgive a person who left three children orphans in
a matter of seconds without giving it a thought. And I'm pretty sure that an
enormous percent of even Mr. Hefner's supporters would consider this person a "bad
My friend says that if one forgives another's trespasses, then there's less
"bad stuff" clogging up one's mind ("stuff" like hatred and resentment). That
leaves room for more "good stuff" to occupy one's mind, and that a happy mind
translates into spontaneous good works. Help an old lady cross the street. Cut
the lawn of an aging neighbor. Write an informative node on E2 that some
thankless whelp will plagiarize doing his Humanities homework. Give a homeless
person a $5 instead of just a quarter.
Are We Inherently Bad, or Can We Change?
Look above at the hyponyms for "bad person." Under "seducer" it admits that
the seducer not only entices others into "wrongdoing," but into "error."
Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken both committed reprehensible crimes of
greed; yet their respective foundations give millions to this day to good
causes. They also languished in jail and paid hefty fines as punishment for
their deeds. Have they been redeemed in the eyes of the public? I don't know; I
couldn't find a public opinion survey that's available without fee to inform me
how they were doing. John D. Rockefeller was a model of philanthropy. Some
would say "oh, well, that was easy; he was one of the richest persons in the
United States in his day." Is it envy of the lifestyle to which he'd become
accustomed that makes it easy to pigeon-hole him as a "robber baron?" Need one
lead the life of a Mother Theresa to win 100% of the vote for "good person?"
I'll say it again. It's just my opinion, but there are no bad people,
just bad acts. Commit one or two bad acts and then keep your nose clean
for a few years and I ain't gonna call you a bad person. Just a person who made
some mistakes. Yours truly has committed a few or many, many bad acts over the
years, depending who you ask. On the other hand, I have a wall full of
certificates, plaques and the like that are proof of my good acts. And I'm
certain that there are people who'll argue that some of those acts were indeed
good. Let a member of the Ku Klux Klan know that I've worked hard to improve
the quality of arts education in the predominately black North End of Hartford and he'll probably want to hang me from the highest tree.
Let a good religious fundamentalist know that I've raised funds for the local
GLBT Center and they'll probably say that I've wasted my money because sexual
deviants go to Hell anyway.
But enough about me and my opinions. This has nothing to do with God,
religion, morality or lack thereof. There's a great writeup herein called
Love Your Enemies. I strongly suggest perusing that and also reading up on
anything to do with forgiveness. Because if you harbor negative thoughts about a
person in your mind, you're letting them take up space therein rent free. Let's
put a new spin on the term "bad acts." Let's call them "errors." Sure it's
sugar-coating a bitter pill, but this kinda medicine works wonders for your
state of mind.
WordNet, Cognitive Science Laboratory, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ
http://wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=bad%20person (Accessed 8/23/07)
The Free Dictionary (c) Farlex Inc.
http://www.thefreedictionary.com/bad+person (Accessed 8/23/07)
http://www.audioenglish.net/dictionary/bad_person.htm (Accessed 8/23/07)
WordWeb Online http://www.wordwebonline.com/en/BADPERSON (Accessed 8/23/07)
http://thinkexist.com/quotes/with/keyword/bad_person/ (Accessed 8/23/07)