In the past weeks we have experience two astonishing arrests. First there was Christopher Paul Hanson, a Coast Guard lieutenant who worked at the national office of the coast guard located in Washington D.C. He was arrested and accused of being a white nationalist with plans to overthrow the very government for which he worked. Second, Jesse Smollett was arrested and charged with filing a false police report that drew upon the most egregious aspects of racism and homophobia for which he was the very symbol of progress against such things.
Both men are a part of the hero class of the American Mythology of the left and right. Because of such mythologies, the right has a hard time believing in the possibilities that law enforcement officers can engage in blind racist acts. Likewise, the left immediately assumes that every testimony of every victim is always true. For the left and the right these arrests challenge our assumptions.
In Jesse Smollett and Christopher Paul Hanson, we are reminded about the complexity of human beings and that what we see is rarely the total story. What we know about someone is not enough to canonize or castigate them. Whether these men will ultimately be proven to be guilty or innocent, the very discovery of their possible human foibles should give us all pause to contemplate what we are all capable of doing – both good and bad.
Everyone will need grace. Everyone will require truthful correction. No one is immune to the odd mixture of surprising intelligence and breathtaking stupidity that make up our humanity.
It should warn us against tying our sense of morality and ethics to any one person’s story. It should make us humble in our promotion of people and passionate in our insistence upon truth and integrity. Ethics and morality are a function of demonstrative actions, not assumed character.
We cannot move forward until we dispel the theological and political myths of the perfect human figure. Our politicians will never grow if they can assume that their base will not recognize or criticize their weakness and mistakes. Our children will never become the citizens that we need them to be if we cannot lift up the fact that purity of ideology is not more important than clarity and courage of one’s moral and ethical character.
The story of these men should extricate us from the immature trap of caricaturing our leaders, our entertainers and our men and woman who serve as warriors and protectors.
Let us pray for these men, seek the truth about their actions, and remember that we could and should be our best by not excusing our worst.