On my drive home from church Wednesday night, I caught a program on BBC Radio 4 called Moral Maze. At the point I joined in, a certain man was questioning why there is a need to make references to people’s past sins especially mistakes made when they were young. This caught my attention, well, because I have been thinking about the same thing for months now. In fact, I started to write a post on it but somehow left it sitting in my draft.
Ever since I started consciously listening to the News, I realised something very troubling: People’s pasts are hung like yokes on their necks and tattooed on their foreheads, irrespective of who they eventually turn out to become. I’ll explain what I mean. The other day, I was half-heartedly listening to the News and a report came about a popular figure who had just died in his 80s. The anchor lady gave a brief report of the things he had been involved in during his lifetime and shared with us how he died. She went on to end the report by mentioning how he was accused of a certain crime in the 50s . . .
Why did she have to mention that? Was there really a need to? What would have happened if she had just announced his death and said he would be missed by those who loved and cared about him? Or was she trying to help us remember who she was talking about, like “It’s that guy who did . . . in the 50s, remember him?”
This is not the first nor second nor third nor tenth time I have come across such reporting by the media.
There is equally another side to this dilemma:
(Fictional) A woman in her 50s is running for public office. All her ducks are in a row and she’s set to win the election based on her track record and reputation. Suddenly, she wakes up one morning to headlines of plagiarism in her 2nd-year university term paper some 30 years ago. The news is spread on every website and social media page. Panels are set up to discuss this curveball in all the major media houses. People who were probably not even born at the time she was in Uni are members of the panel, analysing her mental state at the point when she submitted the paper. They draw connections from that point to now and submit their conclusions that she is certainly unfit to run for public office.
This is what I mean by people’s pasts being hung around their necks like yokes and tattooed on their foreheads, irrespective of who they eventually turn out to become.
I really want to know what the basis of such brutal moral judgement is, and why we have somehow become addicted to digging out skeletons that have long decayed. Funny enough, the reporters in these media houses and the investigators that are paid to dig up stuff and those who pay them are all not void of skeletons themselves. I remember seeing for a brief moment an interview of a former BBC employee who was accused of some misdemeanour sometime during her career. At that interview, and at the point where I met it, she was talking about how the world sort of turned against her when her wrongs were exposed and how unfair it was for the world to judge her character based on the revelation. Forgive me, but in my mind, I was like “oh please, give me a break, you probably did the same to others”.
The truth is that not everyone was a saint in their adolescent years, and not many are saints until they eventually die, that’s the world we live in. So aren’t we setting unrealistic standards for ourselves by nitpicking on the lives of everyone who happens to be in the public eye or otherwise? Isn’t that the highest form of self-righteousness and hypocrisy when we sit behind our computer screens and TV screens and judge others whose sins have been revealed, while we sit on suitcases filled with our own sins trying to prevent them from bursting at the seams?
I listened intently to the argument on the Moral Maze program on radio, and I couldn’t help but agree with that man who thought it was completely ridiculous to tie people’s pasts to their present credentials, especially if they are a completely different person from who they used to be. If we all lived the sort of lives where we never got a second chance, no one would be anything worthy of mention today; no one would associate with anyone at all.
If the media won’t stop the branding, you can make the choice to never allow them to turn you into both judge and jury in the cases of others. We don’t have to listen to their skewed opinions of others as they report it. We don’t have to take sides in stories we know absolutely nothing about except what we have only heard. We don’t have to be biased. We can all be gracious, because one day, we might be in need of grace ourselves.
Now I’m not in any way saying that there should be no consequences for wrongdoing, but when is it safe enough to remove the negative brands and judge people based on who they have now become?
When will it be okay to forget?
Like the man in the program concluded, and I paraphrase: “If your past was brought to light, would you want to be judged based on the premise that those were different times or you are a different person?
And in turn, what will you do for others?
And if I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ but they then turn away from their sin and do what is just and right— if they give back what they took in pledge for a loan, return what they have stolen, follow the decrees that give life, and do no evil—that person will surely live; they will not die. None of the sins that person has committed will be remembered against them. They have done what is just and right; they will surely live. Ezekiel 33: 14-16