On Good Deeds and Deficient Character

I don’t know who needs to hear this, but you can’t determine that someone has good character because they’ve done some good things, been kind to someone, prayed for someone, etc. Character is about patterns of doing the right thing over time with consistency and integrity.

We’re all sinners. Even those with the best character can and do engage in awful behavior sometimes. But those with good character display a consistent interest in “doing right” in all areas of life and remedying their wrongs.

And terrible people can do wonderful things, often while displaying the greatest refinement and class and while seeming humble and self-sacrificing. But those with bad character use these things to mask or offset the evil they commit, to make it easy for others to look away.

But good deeds don’t offset bad ones. It doesn’t work that way. If someone was nice to you—or even is consistently nice to you—but makes a pattern of being a jerk to everyone else, slandering, abusing people, covering for abusers, and so on, that’s not a person with good character who made mistakes. That’s a bad person.

You can’t say, “X has great character but needs to stop beating their kids,” or “X has great character but needs to stop constantly, verbally abusing strangers,” or “X has great character but needs to stop [insert illegal or immoral pattern of behavior here].” Okay, you could say that, but it would demonstrate a lack of character and judgment on your part to do so. No one who sees you papering over such things can or should assume that you are a safe person. You’d be an enabler and apologist for evil and thus become complicit.

When we lose the ability to call out evil deeds, we become complicit. If your friend is a horrible person and you don’t speak up when others need to hear from you because your friend is your friend, you now own that person’s character defects and have blessed them.

Civility is important. Respect is important. Decency, kindness, and charity are important. But none of those virtues excuses silence in the face of evil, much less enforcing others’ silence in the face of evil. That’s complicity and says to the victims of an evil person, “The harms that my friend did to you matter less than the good reputation of my friend.” Don’t be that person.

Originally posted on Twitter.

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