Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Am I A Good Person?

  • I'm starting to try to see myself from a different perspective.

  • Have you ever wondered what you would have done if you were a German citizen in 1933?  What about through the war?  I think because I have known Holocaust survivors the question has always bothered me. Would I have worn a dark uniform with the twin lightning bolt SS on the collar?

    I have had nightmares in which I am variously an SS guard at an extermination camp, an inmate of such a camp forced to dispose of bodies, or watching the Einsatzgruppen shoot Jewish men standing in a line on the edge of a mass grave.  It has been years since I have dreamed these dreams, but I used to have them fairly frequently.  They were always those awful kind of nightmares which seem so real that I would wake up disoriented, not sure where I was or really who I was. 

    The Steven King novella Apt Pupil really bothered me.

    What I think it all boiled down to was that I was asking myself is Andy a good person? Would Andy have done the right thing?

    I think that there are times in my life where I might have taken a different path.  Where Andy could have become a real monster had the opportunity existed.  I am fortunate that at those times I was not at a crossroads where those choices for evil were readily available and could easily have been made. 

    I believe that all human beings have the capability within them to be monsters.  Any human being could participate in deliberate, premeditated and planned murder; we all have the capacity to do great evil.  In that, I am no different from anyone else.

    But I also believe that all human beings have the capacity to do great good as well.  All human beings can be angels; but we must make the choice to be selfless in order to do so.  I enjoy reading the stories about the Righteous Among Nations, gentiles who risked their lives to save the lives of Jewish people during the Holocaust, because they remind me that ordinary people can make a difference. In fact, for good or evil, ordinary people make all the difference in the world.

    So, is Andy a good person or is Andy a bad person? 

    When I was drinking I frequently held jobs in psychiatric hospitals, homeless shelters and even a juvenile correctional facility.  I was no saint.  Hell, when they closed down the Salvation Army Homeless shelter I worked at, I stole chairs from it (Hmm, I'd best talk to my sponsor about that, I probably owe an amends).  Once when I worked at a psychiatric hospital, I learned that this girl I knew - her dad was being treated for alcoholism in there.  So, while he was being treated in there, I was at his house, drinking and trying to get his daughter to sleep with me.  Seemed like a good idea at the time.

    So, not a saint.

    On the other hand, as a psychiatric aide, I hated restraining patients.  Hated it with a passion.  I did not like tying people to beds against their will.  Some of that was fear for my own safety, but a lot of it was just a dislike of that kind of force, power and control being exercised.  I really resented and disliked those people on staff who were quick to abandon counseling and take up restraints.  I thought some of the staff were punitive and vindictive.

    At the correctional facility I worked nights.  I hated that job.  It was near the end of my drinking so I was a pint of vodka a day type of guy (or would have been, there were other medical issues at that time).  There was a division on the staff between those who were counseling oriented and those who were corrections oriented.  The corrections guys were brutal and thugs.  They had no interest in the kids other than that they obeyed.  I saw some pretty crazy stuff happen there.

    After one really, really bad incident I wrote a four or five page letter spelling out how bad things were, detailing incidents, naming names of staff who I thought were violent and abusive.  I remember my heart hammering when I delivered it.  I was pretty sure I would be fired. 

    Instead, some of the people I named were fired.  Things got a little better (marginally).  I wound up quitting a short time after that.

    Looking over my past, I find that I have always enjoyed jobs where I was able to help people.  My favorite job ever was working at the women's shelter in Colorado, helping battered women get restraining orders, watching them learn that they could live on their own.  That was great.

    Not a monster either. 

    Just Andy, and you know, it turns out that being just Andy is not a bad thing to be.

    Regarding my dreams, where would I have been had I been a German in World War II?  I don't know, I really don't because I have never faced those choices.  I have a tough time imagining myself as a Nazi.  I don't follow orders, I never have and I dislike authority.  My sense of social justice is very strong and motivates me.  I can't say for sure, but I would hope that I would be one of those average invisible Germans looking to take care of my family.  I'd also hope and pray that family would include as many Jews as I could possibly hide in my house.