"Good People"

January 12, 2021 By Katherine Tyler Scott

“Good People”

Katherine Tyler Scott


In conversation with a number of friends and colleagues about the recent violence in the United States Capital during which thousands of mostly white men and white nationalists stormed it looking for the leaders of the Congress and defiling, defacing and destroying property and symbols of democracy for hours, I heard some trying to make sense of what happened as “good people doing bad things;” or “good people making bad choices.”

Many people of conscience are trying to understand what they saw, what it means and how and why it happened. It will take some time to fully comprehend what the most hopeful among us think will ultimately be a nationwide awakening of consciousness and conscience.

Those who see the perpetrators of violence as “good people” make the point that we should avoid demonizing the rioters and resist making permanent negative judgments about them. “Judge the behavior, not the person,” they say. “Counter hate with love,” they intone. These are messages of caution that need to be heard; dismissing the level of rage and hostility we just witnessed as if it will disappear on January 20, 2021 would be substituting the grip of one delusional belief for another. Those who have made a demarcation between being good people and their engagement in egregious behavior say that when we act in ways that deprive the humanity of others, we only contribute to the toxicity of a culture that spews red hot hatred and promotes apparel that symbolizes a past era of division that resulted in a civil war.

The first and subsequent videos seen of the terrorist attack show an obvious and intentional commitment to violence that is both shocking and heartbreaking. The more we process the scenes the harder it is to set them aside or to let the words;” Good people do bad things” go unchallenged. Such explanations don’t go far enough and are entrees to tacit approval of continued justification of violence.

We are a nation in peril; a serious assault on our form of governance, on elected leaders on voting have helped to erode the sense of a shared identity as citizens. The fragility of our democracy has been exposed. So much of its health depends on the health of its citizens, on our dedication to being informed, involved, honest and committed to facts. Too many assumed it could endure without our tending it, without our working hard to help it live up to its promises.

The level of denial needed to support leadership that is blatantly irresponsible has been a major contributor to this crisis, it is in great part a crisis precipitated from a willful decision to disconnect from facts and truth; to accommodate habitual lying, fabrication of information, and bullying of those who with whom there is disagreement.  As a colleague characterized the behavior of those who still support this behavior; “it is consciously deciding to be unconscious.”

The level of denial and rationalization is contributing to an environment of hate in which none of us is safe. There is no rational excuse for what happened on January 6, 2021. We must continue to go deep in trying to understand how we got to this point and those who try to move on without identifying the root causes of the violence will share the responsibility for the deep divisions, destruction and deaths.

We will need good people willing to do this work.

We need good people with a core sense of self who are guided by values and principles considerate of the rights and concerns of others; engaged in dialogue with those with whom they differ, committed to an honest quest for truth.

Good people have integrity and display true empathy; they desire resolution not insurrection; they hold the tension and conflict rather than creating and exploiting it for their own gain.

Good people do not espouse “law and order” and then create conditions for brutalizing and murdering policemen engaged in their duty to lawfully protect us.

Good people don’t threaten to kill others with whom they have different opinions and perspectives.

Good people search for the truth and will not repeat untruths. 

Good people do not ignore or sanction racist, misogynistic, antisemitic beliefs and behavior.

Good people do not participate and perpetuate in the scapegoating of others when conflict arises.

Good people are aware of the disparity between what is espoused and what actually happens.

Good people reflect on the impact of their behavior on others and work to change it when it is harmful.

Good people do not embrace white supremacy.

Good people recognize rhetoric that ais dangerous and do not remain silent when they hear it.

Good people have moral and ethical boundaries; when crossed they are compelled to act on behalf of the greater good.

Good people know that all human beings have the capacity to do harm and realize that denial of this truth only strengthens irresponsible behavior and makes us unconscious of the harm we do.

Good people do not rationalize the harm done; they face themselves, ask for forgiveness and try to be and do better.

Good people are not callous toward those who suffer; they genuinely believe in the dignity and worth of every human being and strive to live it through word and deed.

We need more good people who understand what it means