Close this search box.

How to Know if You’re Being a Terrible Person

I come bearing good news: You’re wrong about the world. Everything is fine.

Bad people are a myth. They simply do not exist. Seriously.

There are no racists in the world.

Not the white woman who recently trolled my page to call President Obama a “knuckle dragger,” or the folks leaving nooses at the African-American History museum, or those justifying unarmed black men’s executions during traffic stops, or those tossing around the N-word like frisbees. Their comments are all being misconstrued and their motives being twisted.

They don’t hate anyone—so people of color, you can all rest easy now.

There are no homophobic or transphobic Christians.

While they compare a stranger’s sexual orientation to child molestation, or scream about the dangers lurking in bathroom stalls, or try to take away a stranger’s rights to marry or adopt children or serve in churches—they claim not to fear or hate anyone, but simply to be Godly, Bible believing people being faithful to their religious imperative.

See, LGBTQ people, you’ve got them pegged all wrong—so drop the persecution complex.

There are no misogynists.

The men who raise their hands against their spouses, who ogle and catcall strangers jogging by, who coerce classmates into sex, who comment on a female politician’s appearance, sexual activity, or menstrual cycle—they’re all just decent guys who have no issues with women.

Ladies, you’re simply being overly emotional, which is your way. Relax.

There are no hateful bigots.

They may broker in the most vile and lazy of stereotypes against those who do not share their religion, skin color, or native language; and they may scream obscenities at strangers on city buses or deface Mosques or toss of slurs around on social media—but they’re not violent, intolerant terrorists.

Muslim Americans and immigrants really need to stop being so damn sensitive.

Apparently we’re all good, decent, loving people who neither discriminate nor hate—just ask us.

None of us are irrationally fearful or excessively violent, and we certainly don’t actively harm people. 

The numbers are astounding. I’ve been a minister in the local church for twenty years living alongside thousands of families, and I’ve crossed paths with tens of millions of people here through this forum. In all that time, in literally hundreds of thousands of interactions with people of every possible demographic; across all lines of religion and race and life stage—I have met exactly zero hateful people (at least not in their own heads.)

No one has ever openly confessed to real-time homophobia or racism or misogyny or bigotry. In fact, each has gone to great lengths to vehemently (and ironically sometimes violently) defend themselves from such allegations and suggestions. Not one of them has never been one of “those bad people” they claim are out there.

And this is the rub: we all believe ourselves to be models of humanity in real-time, no matter how inhumanely we treat people, no matter how others experience our lives, no matter how much people tell us we’ve damaged them. We are all reticent to own any of it.

Every religious person believes God consents to whatever they’re doing to people in the name of God, no matter how terrible it might feel to someone else. They can justify it with a text or somehow rationalize it as godly.

No men would ever characterize their behavior toward women as criminal; never owning harassment or misogyny—and certainly never sexual assault of any kind.

Every person with a gun sees themselves as a “good guy with a gun;” one whose judgment is sound and whose cause is righteous. None of them are vigilantes or cowboys or bullies.

No white person ever admits to hating anyone simply for the color of their skin, always ready with a laundry list of reasons why they’re not the clinical definition of a racist.

No parent is abusive, no spouse predatory, no man or woman unjustly intolerant of difference.

Someone has to be wrong here.

Either millions of supposed victims of hate crimes are mistaken, and they haven’t actually been the targets of unspeakable violence done to them based on their gender or their religion or their skin color or their nation of origin—or millions more of us are actually sometimes as vile as people claim we are.

100 percent of terrible people don’t know they’re being terrible.

So here’s the best advice I can give you if you’re wondering whether or not you’re a jerk: don’t trust yourself to know.

Yes, you may have a good heart and you may be misunderstood and you might not be a malevolent monster—but every person believes this about themselves so you really can’t be sure. That’s why they call them blind spots.

Ultimately you need to do something that can be extremely difficult: Listen to other people.

When they suggest you might be guilty of doing some of the things that harmful people do, resist the knee-jerk desire to defend yourself. Sift every person’s words for truth, even if that truth feels as abhorrent to you as anything you could imagine. And even if you come to the conclusion that someone’s evaluation of your motives is wrong—realize that this is how they are experiencing you. This matters.

Christians, if an LGBTQ person tells you they feel victimized by your faith expression, this is how they feel. If you’re truly a follower of Jesus, your burden to love them as yourself will be as profound as any you have. If a Transgender woman or a gay man tells you that they’re not feeling loved by you, you don’t get to argue that they don’t—you get to figure out how to make them feel loved.

White friends, if a person of color suggests that your words are revealing a hidden area of prejudice or that these words are damaging to them—they likely are. The answer when someone in a marginalized community tells you that you might have unresolved racial issues, is not to dig your heels in and double down in defense, it’s to speak less and listen more.

And on and on and on…

We all believe we have right on our side.

The point in any of our difficult, painful interactions with people, is not to prove that we are right and they’re wrong. It’s to realize that if our lives are hurtful to them—we’re not yet as right as we need to be.

Most of us haven’t yet figured out how to be as good and decent and loving as we want to believe we are.

We all have work to do to be less terrible.

We should do that work.








Share this: