How many kinds of people do you see?
I notice that a lot of people see two kinds of people: Good People and Evil People.
Some people see only one kind of people: We are all basically the same, even though our background and experiences shape us a little and our choices can shape our future.
Some people see lots of kinds of people: we separate people out by their gender, race, class, region, religion, sexual orientation, age…all of these make us significantly different, so if you build out a grid, you get lots of different kinds of people.
But maybe there are no kinds of people.
No matter how you split out identities into kinds, you’ll always find people who don’t fit their “kind,” and plenty of people sorta fit their kind and sorta don’t. That’s why we shouldn’t put people in boxes.
But I also think it oversimplifies things to say that there’s really only one kind of people. Usually, that “lowest common denominator” humanity that we all share looks like the culturally dominant model of life – like white male privilege or whatever. Where we come from isn’t everything, but it isn’t nothing, either.
But mostly, I have to reject the “two kinds of people” approach. When I was in high school, we learned about the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, which argued that an all-knowing and all-powerful God who exists beyond time already knew who would be saved and who would be damned, before any of us ever got started. And my reaction was, I would give that theology credence if I ever met people who both believed in predestination and believed they were not among the elect.
It’s sorta the same with the Good People vs. Evil People. I have yet to meet someone who thinks of themselves, truly, as evil. And people I respect who work with folks that the rest of us would call EVIL says constantly that he has never met anyone who is evil; just despairing, or damaged, or mentally ill. And in most cases we can’t decide on who is Evil and who is Good – it almost depends on who we agree with and who we don’t.
There are extreme cases. In the week since the Parkland shooting, I have seen the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, referred to as an “animal” and “a monster” by victimized families (who I don’t blame) and elected officials (who I do). Undoubtedly, what Cruz did was evil. Full stop.
But I was talking to a friend I greatly respect who lives in Coral Springs, whose son is a hear away from attending Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, whose husband knows well the police officers who responded to the scene knowing they had their own children inside. And what she said to me through tears was this: There were not 17 victims that day. There were 18.
If we want to say that Cruz was a monster or an animal or an Evil Person, well, certainly his last heinous acts make that case. But my friend’s point, with which I could not agree more, is that if Cruz is a monster, he was made so by the rest of us. We didn’t surround his adopted family with enough support. We let him slip through the holes of our non-system of mental health and social support. We didn’t react to the signs of distress; not only law enforcement, but all of those who could have reached out. And we created a culture in which violence was an easier choice than it could have been. What he did was Evil, exponentially so. But that isn’t enough to make the rest of us Good.
So I’m going to stick with “no kinds of people.” Let’s understand that we all have Evil and Good within us, and we all create Evil and Good around us, and as much as we want to grade on a curve, the scale is really absolute. Let’s understand that we all have a past that shapes us and all have a future we can shape, and we’re not all the same, but we’re also not irrevocably different. And let’s understand that the future we shape is an interconnected one. I heard about a conference whose theme was “The Power of One,” and my thought was The power of one was evidenced by Nikolas Cruz, killing and destroying. The power of creating and sustaining takes not one, but all.
That’s how many kinds of people I see. How about you?