Growing up things were always taught to me in binaries. Things were good or bad. Safe or unsafe. Happy or sad. There was little talk of things being gray. This may be because of how our brains work. One of my favorite rules in the Brain Rules book by Dr. John Medina is that:
“We pay attention to things like emotions, threats and sex. Regardless of who you are, the brain pays a great deal of attention to these questions: Can I eat it? Will it eat me? Can I mate with it? Will it mate with me? Have I seen it before?”
We had to rapidly judge things in the past because our survival depended on us being able to put things in the good or bad categories.
This brings us to Senator John McCain dying yesterday on August 25th, 2018. In his death I saw the binary being put forward. He was a war hero and prisoner of war! Obviously a good man.
Senator McCain was also the most vocal proponent for the Iraq War which was a huge mistake. McCain himself understood and accepted that he was a main architect of the war and had a huge burden to bear in that travesty. How can you call a man who advocated for an unjust war good? He was obviously a bad man.
The truth as always is the gray in between. There may be a spectrum of more good vs less good. I have read enough history to understand that there are no true heroes that were perfect. Everyone is fallible. The degree of our sins may vary as well as the perspective we view their actions through. I can’t imagine a citizen of Iraq believes Senator McCain can be judged as being more good than bad. Those of us in America who didn’t see the horror of the war caused or felt any ramifications of it may want to view him differently.
As always this leads me to the idea of racism. If someone does or says something I identify them as racist and put them in the bad category. When I do this it perpetuates that only bad people are racist. After reading White Fragility and understanding that it is impossible to be raised in America without drinking the white supremacy water this binary changes. We are all racist to some degree. The more we work on it the closer we get toward the side of good. The truth is we will never fully be there. The best we can hope for is that we get as far away from the bad spectrum as possible.