In movies characters are more often than not divided into two separate and distinctive categories, the heroes (the good looking, the kind hearted, the “Let’s save the day” kinda dudes and gals) and the villains (the misguided, the dark, the “Let’s take over the planet” kinda figures). But life is no movie and it is much harder to fit people into either one or the other category. In reality, most people are more morally grey than a black or white hero or villain.
Looking at myself, some people may call me a hero. Hell I even have one or two life saves under my belt. I do genuinely try to inspire people, am vocal about equal rights and I do spend a decent amount of time with the homeless plus a lot of time with my two nieces (who doesn’t love an adorable family man?). On paper that is typical movie heroism. On the other end of the spectrum, I am not nearly close to being perfect. I am incredibly flawed and make mistakes. As my closest friends can attest to, I can be downright unlikeable at times. I haven’t committed any crimes as serious as trying to take over the world with my giant death ray but I haven’t always made the best choices. In our hypothetical black and white world, this makes me a villain.
One of the hardest things I struggle with is learning which crimes have been committed by the guests. In the shelter life, it is more uncommon for us to encounter someone who has NOT had some sort of run ins with the wrong side of the law rather than those who never have. In our movie reality this makes them villains. The sad reality to this situation is that movies, tv and the media have convinced us that anyone who has committed a crime is the bad guy. We don’t think twice about why the crime was committed, just that they are bad people who did a bad thing. We rarely look into what roads led to committing the crime. Was it out of necessity? Was it a product of their environment or their upbringing? We don’t make exceptions and sometimes we don’t even allow redemption. We don’t see a person anymore, we see the crime.
There are some awful crimes in this world and please don’t take this as me trying to justify any of these crimes being committed. It takes a lot of work for me to look past the crimes to see the light in a person. I can think of at least one moment with each guest where they showed me their light. Whether it be offering other guests some snacks they managed to bring in with them or an extra smoke (which is a huge deal sharing because smokes are like gold in the shelter) or jumping into a fight to protect myself or any volunteers, I have seen the heroic side of so many of these guests that would be otherwise classified as a villain in the movie version of reality.
The point that I am getting at is that we cannot be defining people as either simply a hero or a villain. This world is not that simple. We live in a morally grey world. In this world, the “good” guys will make mistakes and the “bad” guys will commit acts of kindness and in some cases, seek redemption. Motivations for crimes aren’t always world domination and even heroic actions aren’t always driven by the goodness of one’s heart. Call me naive or stupid but in this field, I have to be able to believe that people can change or find their redemption if they seek it. I have to find their light or I would go crazy. When we see people as only their crimes, we are blocking their chance at redemption. We are not allowing them to move pass it or find a way to forgive themselves. Now please do not get me wrong, I am not asking for everyone to forgive or trust a dangerous offender or someone who has done horrible things to you. I just want us all to pull back and look at things from a different (and uncomfortable) perspective.
I want you to think of the good things you have done in your life. People you have helped, loved and made their lives better. Or even things like helping a little old lady across the street or volunteering at your local Warming Room (see what I did there?). Those are the moments where you know that you did some good. Now I want you to think of the worst thing you have ever done. Have you grown since then? Were you forgiven? Have you forgiven yourself?
Now imagine that the bad thing you did is the only thing people ever see about you. No matter how hard you try, no one will let you move on from that moment or let you forget it. Think about how much that would hurt and no matter how much you grow or try to change, no one accepts it. No one will ever see you as anything more than that awful thing. You are the villain in the world’s eyes. How does that feel?
See? Things are not so simply black and white or heroes and villains. I hope that we can start allowing people who are seeking redemption to find it. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I know that people allowing me to redeem myself has made all the difference in shaping the person I have become. I do not know where I would be if friends and family didn’t forgive me for my mistakes.
We all have different paths to take and things are rarely as “hero or villain” as they are in the movies. I hope those of you seeking redemption are granted the chance to do so. And always remember, be kind to each other.