I don’t know if she coined the phrase, but my wife is the first person whom I heard speak it…and she has spoken it frequently over the years. Mostly to our children, as they were growing up, she used the phrase as a warning for them to expect and deliver the best of themselves all the time. Especially when life was challenging and one person or another made it more challenging—a bully, a cheater, a liar. Children being children, they usually wanted the world to be “fair,” and so they felt justified or sorely tempted to retaliate. But my wife coined (I think) a pearl: “Don’t let other people make you a bad person.” 

It seems a simple concept, simple enough that my children understood it from their youngest years. Just because someone else does something mean, dishonest, immoral does not give any of us license to do something else mean, dishonest, immoral. The more I heard the expression, the more I liked it; I realized that it presumed that my children were good to begin with…an important perception that we should all have and pursue about ourselves…though that is not always the lesson taken from the phrase.

In recent days, I have seen bad people with bad behaviors make others—many others—behave badly. The political world is aflame with name calling and other inflammatory rhetoric, prejudices, personal insults, and general vulgarity. 

Donald Trump ran a campaign full of insult, prejudice, and vulgarity…I am not speaking politically or judging him politically here; regardless of policy or platform issues, he constantly attacked people on personal grounds, on racial or nationalistic grounds, and often used language formerly excluded from presidential campaigns. Especially in his leadership role, his language and comportment are, in my opinion, bad behaviors.

Serge Kovaleski, investigative reporter at  The New York Times.

Serge Kovaleski, investigative reporter at The New York Times.

The world seems to have chosen to meet him in the gutter. Clinton’s campaign against him included the constant re-airing of Trump’s mocking a disabled reporter, Serge Kovaleski. Every day, we got to see that particular bad behavior over and over and over again. Meryl Streep went on to say at the Golden Globes award evening that Trump’s behavior “broke her heart”…but she was also made to relive it multiple times a day on television. 

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The Women’s March on Saturday appears to have given many the license for overwhelming self-righteous bad behavior…justified usually in the name of equality or liberty or freedom. People personally attacked Trump and his family in terms as bad—and at times worse—than Trump used. For me, any positive message was lost in the excess of vulgarity.

Facebook has become a feeding ground of mockery and meanness and vulgarity…from the right and the left…calling each other horrid names, attributing frightening motives and frightening debaucheries to each other, wishing unspeakable things. In the name of denouncing prejudice, people deal with each other prejudicially; in the name of denouncing insensitivity, people have been highly insensitive; in the name of political freedom, people have insisted only on their viewpoint.

“Old white dudes” fixing everything.  (© 2001, Associated Press)

“Old white dudes” fixing everything. (© 2001, Associated Press)

On a very personal level, recently I’ve been lumped into a group being prejudicially blamed for what’s wrong in the world. “Old white dudes,” writes a friend, are ruining everything. I’m an old white dude and I don’t think that I’m at all responsible for any of the negativity—political or behavioral—going on in the world today. I think that friend let others’ bad behavior affect him, because I know he is not a prejudicial person. In fact, I presume he’s a good guy to begin with.

In fact, I’m going to take my wife’s warning to heart: I won’t let others make me a bad person. I want to see change, I welcome protest, I accept resistance…especially against anyone’s bad behavior.