The Deeds of Man

Did a little slumming yesterday and tuned to NPR’s Morning Edition in time to hear the story on Bill Crosby, the depositions, the allegations, how people are reacting to the allegations, and how someone thought they should react and why they weren’t reacting in that manner. As I listened, I thought of the predicable reactions, such as removing The Crosby Show reruns from TV, which is a pity, since it was one of the best family shows ever made. For eight years, The Crosby Show broke new ground by reintroducing the concept of successful parents maintaining a strong family and had a strong anti-racism message just by the main characters being black. One of the good parts of the show was how the grandparents pointed out that Cliff and Clara Huxtable pulled similar stunts as their children, which not only was funny, but conveyed that they, too had to learn, and that their rules and decisions were often made from hard-learned experience. This was a “message” show without “preaching,” and people loved it. It’s still a good family show, heads above much what is on TV these days.

None of this will change, even if the allegations against Crosby are true. An interviewee in yesterday’s story theorized that the public often has an impression of an actor from the role they play and confuse this with knowing the person himself. This is certainly true. But there’s also a tendency for people to condemn everything a person does based on some deed. By the same token, there’s a tendency to dismiss a person’s less than sterling acts based on the good they have done. We’re shocked when we learn a “saint” had a dark side, or a monster was capable of kindness, yet each deed, good and bad, stands alone in what it is, even “good” that turns out to have been done for evil reasons. Each is what it is.

Maybe we like the idea of saints and monsters as exceptional people because it excuses us from being as good while letting us say at least we’re not that bad. So we squirm to learn that few saints considered themselves exceptional, or at the post-war psychological studies of the Nazis that showed most were just average people. Both sainthood and depraved evil are within the grasp of each of us.

This also means that just as we’re not consistently good or bad, neither are those we admire or despise. Mother Teresa had her dark moments, and one of Hitler’s housekeepers called him a perfect boss. Mother Teresa’s moments of doubt does not negate the good that she did, nor does Hitler’s moments of kindness absolve him of the Holocaust. The deeds of both, good and bad, stand on their own, and they are accountable for each. Just as each of us are accountable for our actions, good and bad.

We seldom think this way, of course. So The Crosby Show is banned because of allegations against Bill Crosby. The cautionary tale to each of us is that the deeds of our life are not in some balance. Regardless of what good we might do or who we are, it can all be forgotten with the blink of an eye. All it takes is one bad choice.