People are idiots, myself included. It is an inescapable part of human nature. While it can be partially controlled through experience and effort, our innate idiocy cannot be eliminated. Like chronic disease it can be controlled but never cured. The wise among us will learn to suppress our idiocy, to recognize it when it raises it head, and to resist its temptation, but none are immune. Young people, particularly young men, are the must susceptible to its influence.
When I reflect on my earlier years I cringe at the foolish things I did and said, the times when I embarrassed or hurt others with acts that the young Bart thought funny or clever but mature Bart would never even consider. My warped and poorly controlled sense of humor inadvertently offended friends, family members and coworkers on far too many occasions.
I am extremely grateful that I did not grow up in the era of social media. My stupid jokes and comments of the past were heard by only a few people, people who knew me and my tendency to misspeak, or people who out of necessity gave me the benefit of the doubt. In almost all cases, people were able to place my remarks in context, and ignore, forgive or tolerate. They had seen me be kind, generous and caring, so they did not assume that my attempts at humor accurately reflected my character. If some of the in poor taste comments from my past were tweeted or Instagrammed I would now be a pariah, condemned by the world.
Many of my verbal faux pas came to mind this week when I read what had happened to James Gunn, the director of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Some people who were offended by a political stance he had taken took it upon themselves to search his Twitter feed. They went back far enough to find crass and offensive “jokes” in his feed, jokes from a time in his life when he found scandalous and cruel sounding jokes to be funny.
When these old jokes were brought to light the response of the mob was swift and devastating. The Disney company terminated their relationship with him, ending his involvement in the Guardians franchise. They released a statement condemning his past words and distancing the company from both Gunn and his posts. His career may never fully recover.
I read some of the offensive tweets. I saw their offensiveness, but in some of the tweets I also saw the humor. Some of the jokes he wrote were very similar to jokes I heard told by standup comics years ago, jokes many people found funny at that time. In all of the tweets it was obvious to me that he was joking, that the words were reflections of a warped sense of humor, not of a warped man.
James Gunn is not the only person in the news who has been destroyed by the recently discovered words of his youth. Ryan Bounds is Assistant United States Attorney. He graduated from the top law school in the country and has been an attorney for 20 years. He has received numerous accolades and awards and was recently nominated to the 9th Circuit Court of appeals. His nomination was withdrawn this last week over things he wrote when he was a college student over 20 years ago.
While the positions he took in his writings were within mainstream thought, the language he used was stern and offensive to some. The articles he wrote contained terms that were derogatory and needlessly inflammatory. He wrote as if he was only 20 years old and did not know any better.
People opposed to his nomination dug deeply into is past and presented these college writings as evidence of racism and poor character. Bounds, like the vast majority of male college students, was revealed to have once been an idiot. The fact that he was now a noble man who was gifted and talented in his profession was irrelevant. He had done something stupid years ago and he needed to pay. Our world shows no grace and has no mercy for those with whom we disagree. “Once an idiot, always an idiot” seems to be the motto of the day. The reality that good people can do dumb things is completely ignored.
As a person who tries to be good but who has done some really dumb things, I find this discouraging. I work hard each day to be a better, kinder and more compassionate man and would be devastated to have a poorly phrased joke or the words of my former self be the basis of another’s opinion of me. Nor will I judge others in this way. I choose to not be a part of the mob. I choose to evaluate others based on the person they are, not the person they once were, for this is how how God chooses to see people.
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