Monday, March 12, 2012

What makes a person?

Literally, I guess it's this kind of stuff. If I remember more from my biology classes, I probably could have come up with something better, but this is a start.

Obviously, this is not the question my title is asking. It's more figurative, as in how do we determine what makes a person good/bad, smart/dumb, promising/failing, etc. Or, what do we use to judge a person versus what actually makes them inherently good or bad.

This is impossible to answer completely, because each of our opinions concerning inherent goodness will be different, but I will proceed using mine, or rather my idea, because this is hard to define.

A couple days ago I got a call from a friend saying that he narrowly missed disaster because a local kid was found in their driveway by cops, tripping on drugs, and claiming people in the house had beat them up. Because of his state and the fact that nobody was home, my friend suffered no consequences. It wasn't until a couple days later I realized the boy tripping was somebody we knew, a kid who was a few years below me in our high school.

I never hung out with the kid then, or really ever. I remember taking woodworking with him and thought he was a nice, funny kid and we got along. We saw each other occasionally each summer, playing poker or at parties, and he always seemed really happy to see me and always greeted me with a handshake or whatever. Because I didn't know him very well and he did this, I always liked him. He was always happy, always ready to have a good time, and always happy to see an old face. He did a lot of other things I didn't know about, I am sure, but this was enough for me to think that this kid was inherently good. Not many people can be as friendly as he was, which is why the news about him has upset so many people.

He was the one tripping in my friend's driveway(on bath salts, and admittedly foolish drug to mess with) and is now in a coma. As with any coma, it's serious. I've seen on Facebook people offering their condolences and saying prayers and such, but the few people I've talked to privately have said the same thing: "I hope he does well, but he is an idiot for putting himself in that situation," or something to that effect.

Can I argue with that? Sure, I probably could, but really bath salts aren't something to mess with. Was he dumb for taking them? Well not exactly, it was a bad decision. I make bad decisions often but I don't think I am dumb. Was he setting himself up for this situation, one where things had to get so bad for him to possibly see what he needs to change? That's possible. Is he a bad guy? I don't think so.

Are decisions what make a person? Absolutely not, but in this case, I think that's what people will see. I think a lot of those people praying for him are probably also thinking that he is a stupid person or maybe even a bad guy. I know that likely none of them wish ill on him, but I bet they can't help but be mad at him or judge him. I don't blame them for that either, but I don't think they should.

One, the kid has been in a tough spot. He always was experimenting with drugs, but as far as I know, it was never anything too serious. That was until his dad died over a year ago and then things got worse. He probably got started and never could stop. It was probably a way to ease his pain and it was impossible to control. I don't think this is an excuse, but I think it's a contributor.

The other reason I don't think he should be judged is because of what I said about him before. I think he is an inherently good guy who took a bad path. He made bad decisions that led to bad outcomes, but we all do that, and only we would know how it feels when we are in that situation. If he is conscious, I bet he just wants people to know he knows he messed up, and right now he is unable too. We can't judge him for this decision, because it does not make him who he is.

But that's what happens. People make a decision and often live their lives being defined by it. If he pulls out of the coma, he may continue to just float by and do nothing, being the kid from my high school who once went into a coma from taking bath salts. If he doesn't pull out, he will be the kid who died using bath salts. 

What if he pulls out and changes, and becomes a spokesperson for anti-drug campaigns. Or he decides life is too short and goes to college? Then he becomes the kid who had a rough past that turned things around. Notice the exemption of "bath salts" in that title. And that really is what can happen. Nobody will ever acknowledge that the kid is naturally a good kid if he either dies or continues down the same path. And if he pulls out and turns his life around, he will be praised. What's the difference here? A decision, and I think that's unfair.

Sure, it's wonderful to see someone learn from their mistakes, in fact that's what the difference between stupidity and intelligence is. But a decision does not make a person, it's a mere step in a timeline. When you leave this earth, do you want to be summed up by a series of anecdotes or milestones? Probably not. I know I want my eulogy to be filled with comments on who I was as a man, what I was like to be around, how I helped others, how much some people loved me. Not where I graduated from, not what jobs I held or where I lived, not the mistakes I made and how I learned from them. Yes, these contribute to who we are and put us in situations that can change us as people, but they should never define us. 

So before judging someone(which I don't think should really be done at all, but if it weren't, we wouldn't be human) think about your criteria. Do you want to be known for your mistakes, or for who you were?

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