Thursday, December 16, 2010

Words of Wisdom?

On Tuesday, I went to get our car's oil changed. I really like the place that I go, because they give customers free soda, and put a flower on the dashboard for all the women who take their cars there.

While I was waiting, I saw that they had a poster with various motivational quotes on it. And I love me a good motivational quote, so I went over to check them out. Nothing was really jumping out at me until I saw this one:

Never be haughty to the humble. Never be humble to the haughty.

I thought to myself "Oooh, I like that one."

Then I looked down and saw who said it:

Jefferson Davis

Then I thought to myself, "Jefferson Davis?!?"

For those of you not on a big U.S. history tip, Jefferson Davis was the President of the Confederacy during the Civil War.

You know, the side that didn't win.

So anyway, I see that Jefferson Davis wrote the quote, and something very interesting happened. I found myself questioning whether I really liked it as much as I thought I had thirty seconds earlier.

Part of me was saying, "Well what are you supposed to be to the haughty? Haughty back? That's not good. Maybe humble is the best thing to be at all times. But you don't want people to push you around, so maybe it just means stand up for yourself (nicely, of course.) What the hell is this poster company thinking putting a quote from a Confederate leader on their freakin' poster?! Are they trying to send some kind of subliminal message?"

and so on.

But I honestly couldn't say (and still can't,) if my new found questioning of the quote came more from its message, or from its messenger.

Which leads me to this post: How do we acknowledge good things that are done by people that do bad things, and vice versa? Should we celebrate them? Act like they never happened? Or acknowledge that all people make mistakes and no one person is all good or all bad? Does it matter how bad the bad stuff was? Or how good the good stuff?

I was in a really crappy diversity training once that talked about a Neo-Nazi who found a cure for AIDS--I think we were supposed to decide if he should live or die (it was a long time ago, I don't remember all the specifics.)

Besides the fact that I don't think a Neo-Nazi is going to devote his research efforts to finding a cure for that particular disease, it does raise an interesting question. Would this fictitious person deserve to win the Nobel Prize?

Margaret Sanger (founder of Planned Parenthood ,) was a proponent of eugenics, and gave speeches to the Ku Klux Klan. How should this knowledge influence our view of her and her many accomplishments? Hamas kills people who are riding buses and eating pizza; they also give food and healthcare to people in need--how do we reconcile these two pieces of information?

My free flower is on a vase on our mantle. I wonder if I'll have come to any conclusions about Mr. Davis, or any of these other questions by the time its petals have fallen off. I am also really curious to hear what you all think about the issues I've raised--so leave me a comment.


  1. This is very interesting. I tend to be all or nothing in my thought proccess so I would have had a hard time with the quote.
    I have a huge issue with Margaret Sanger as well as planned parenthood becaues of the original intent.
    But, at the same time I have to admit that as a Christian (a much broader label) there are lots of things people have done in the name of Christianity that I hope aren't lumped into who I am as a person.
    Perhaps an individual is easier for me to see as not okay than a group.


  2. i think it's a fun part of life to think about how you intend for something to be very specific but it grows all it's own. In the case of some hateful people it's hilarious.

    another point though is as americans we are a little to focused on dualism.

  3. Nobody is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. What makes you or me better than those who have made publicized mistakes. We all want and try to do good. We should be celebrated for our accomplishments but should also pay for our mistakes. Once we have paid for our mistakes, we should move on.

  4. Shannon9:32 PM

    Some consider this question/idea every single Columbus Day...

  5. I agree with Adam. I think this is something of a false dichotomy. This is the epic struggle between the left hemisphere that seeks to define, and the right hemisphere that does not, the digital and the analog, the discrete and the continuous, the quantum and the classical.

    Jefferson Davis is both good and bad at the same time, as are we all.

  6. I wonder what the conflict is about. Deciding whether such a person is good or bad? Or, deciding that if a bad person can say/do things that are good means that I cannot use snappier judgments and have to think carefully more often? So, I'll have to listen carefully and slowly, not decide that the only news shows to watch are the ones I "agree" with, etc. And of course, the converse too: not all that good people say/do is good either. OMG, even if they say things I agree with. Maybe I should just shut up more! No! It is good to to be willing to make mistakes and change my mind too. Trapped in relativism, sigh. Soon I will be overtaken by calm. That would be nice . . . maybe.

  7. greg g10:53 AM

    A problem known as "Don't shot the messenger". Everyone has a message some more distasteful than others. The real question is how you react to the message and will that course be one of good intentions. There lies the ulimate question what is GOOD or JUST? The life long struggle that huams will always battle over and will always be there. I am sure Sanger thought her way was good and just as well as Hitler, Stalin, Marx, Plato, Obama, Bush, Dr, King, Mom, and Dad. This struggle is the joy of being human and of intellectual thought, we get to decided on an individual level who is Good and Just that is what seperates us from a colony of ants.