Try not to assume the worst of anyone
Dear Carolyn • Here's something that bothers me to no end. I accept (reluctantly) that some people are just No Good. How do these mean, lying, no-good, manipulative thieves see themselves? Do they know they are bad or what they are doing is bad? Do they have an inner narrative that makes them/it good somehow? I'm not just being philosophical here. I have a very hard time believing the worst of people. I make excuses for them. Someone at work was writing crude messages on whiteboards and changing people's computer file names to (vulgar words), and I was too lenient with her. I rationalized it by thinking maybe she thought it was funny. If I could have believed she was a twisted person (which later turned out to be true), I would have taken harsher measures that might have stopped her from going to medical school. I actually shudder at the thought of her being a doctor one day.
Dear Anonymous • I think we all have internal PR shops that spin our stories to our advantage. Some won't really need that justification because their childhoods taught them dog-eat-dog ethics. Others are torn up by their failings, but can't let go of whatever pleasure jolt they get from misbehaving. And don't rule out the psychopaths. The numbers are squishy experts estimate 1 percent of the general population but assume you've encountered some. A psychopath can be charming and even seem normal, through imitation of normal behavior, but underneath the image is someone who feels neither empathy nor remorse. There's nothing to say they can't have office jobs, medical degrees, families, pool club memberships. No one wants to assume the worst of everyone. Instead, reduce your exposure to harmful people by being courteous, kind and reserved, and by training yourself out of believing anything about anyone until you have enough evidence to support a belief. Mary Ellen O'Toole's Dangerous Instincts has a lot to say on this. She was an FBI profiler for years. Worth a read.
Carolyn Hax's column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.