When good causes go awry

Good people make mistakes.  It happens.  No one is perfect.  How we acknowledge those mistakes, and how we try to make amends, that is what’s critical to getting along with everyone, especially those who are harmed by our mistakes.  It makes a world of difference whether we recognize the harm we sometimes do as individuals, as organizations, and even as nations.

And that is why it truly pains me to see groups that I believe in make bad, even horrible mistakes, and then fail to do the right thing afterward.  It is just heartbreaking.  And lately it seems like it is one after another.

The winner for most horrible of these recent disappointments would have to be… us.  The United States, that is, due to the extensive report on how we committed unspeakable things in the name of security, and frequently to completely innocent people.  We can try to explain it away and rationalize it all we want, but it was wrong.  It’s something that “bad” countries like North Korea do.  I’m a historian, so I know all about the things done to American prisoners of war in World War II, in Korea and in Vietnam.  And one true expert I can think of agrees with me:

‘‘The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow,’’ said McCain, who himself was tortured as a prisoner during the Vietnam War. ‘‘But the American people are entitled to it nonetheless.’’

Feinstein’s overall summation was stark: Harsh interrogations didn’t work and the tactics were ‘‘far more brutal than people were led to believe.’’ Releasing just the summary and conclusions of the still secret, 6,700-page report, she said, is a step toward restoring U.S. values.

‘‘America is big enough to admit when it’s wrong and confident enough to learn from its mistakes,’’ said Feinstein, who next month will cede control of the committee she has led for the last six years as Republicans assume the Senate majority.

Honestly, Senators, I am afraid for my country, because apparently a lot of people seem to agree with the torture cheerleader-in-chief, former Vice-President Dick Cheney.  He literally is not fazed in the slightest by the revelation of some tortured detainees being completely innocent, even if they died in our custody.  And somehow we, as a society, got to a point where that is considered acceptable.

That… is truly breathtaking.  Good God, help us all.

And after taking some time to digest all this, then I get hit with the news that Greenpeace managed to damage, possibly irreparably,  the Nazca Lines,  a World Heritage site of inestimable cultural and historical value, in the name of publicity.  And their initial response was, shall we say, poorly thought out.  After a huge storm of criticism, even from their own ranks,  and a rapidly growing mountain of bad publicity, the organization seems to finally have acknowledged that they made an awful error in judgment.

I don’t know what is the bigger tragedy: the desecration and damage of a historical site thousands of years old by a group that is supposed to care about such things, or the spectacle of an organization that may have just undermined not only its own existence, but the cause for which they supposedly committed the trespass in the first place.  It reminds me of the guy who, in the name of protesting logging, cut down a golden spruce tree that was sacred to Native Americans.

It just boggles the mind.

Even on a more personal level, it is frustrating to know that even good causes that Kelly and I support, like certain political candidates or non-profits, make mistakes too.  Like the ones who come to our door and ring the bell, despite our specific sign against solicitation.  That is a perfectly preventable mistake, but it has still happened more than once.  It is quite frustrating to literally be cooking dinner, only to be called away from the stove to the door by someone who either has not bothered to read our sign or just doesn’t care.  Either way, it is a bit disrespectful, as if to say “yes, we realize that this is your home, and you have specifically asked to not be disturbed, but right now what WE want is more important than what YOU want.”  Like some of the political solicitors, or door-to-door salespeople, or petitioners, or even the kid tonight from a nonprofit close to my heart.  Even after I made it clear that I was not keen on his interruption, and was annoyed that my dog was not behaving himself and the kid was not helping, he wanted to keep going.  Wow.  I know this is your job, and you probably believe in your cause, but Kelly and I have a pretty full plate, and so we will do what we can when we can.  Please respect our wishes, especially when we are at home, inevitably after a long day.  Arguing with me is not going to help you, but will instead make me further question your judgment.

Sorry to be so negative, especially this time of year, but I needed to get all that off my chest.  I hope you understand.

-Geoff

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