Putting people like movie directors, comedians and politicians on a pedestal is dangerous. Best to admire good actions without assuming too much about what lies beneath. That’s one way to stay sane.

Share story

Putting people on a pedestal is risky. It’s too easy for them to fall off. Even so, I don’t think we can, or should, stop ourselves from looking for people to admire.

We’re always finding out that someone who seemed wonderful wasn’t really all that we imagined. And lately there’s been a hailstorm of revelations about well-known and well-liked people, mostly men, who have behaved badly toward women and in some cases other men.

Each case has a unique set of elements, but they all involve people of some stature. Among the more recent ones is Charlie Rose, who for many years has conducted interviews on PBS. His program consisted of a low-key, intelligent discussion in an unadorned setting that made it feel a cut above other interview shows.

I rarely watched it, but I had the impression that Rose had to be a classy guy. I made a leap from a little surface information to assumptions about his character that were shattered by accusations that he preyed on young women who worked for his company.

Allegations of sexual misconduct

Since The New York Times published allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein in October, multiple men in Hollywood, politics and media have faced allegations ranging from sexual misconduct to rape. Here's a list of some of the people who have been accused.

How have sexual harassment and the #MeToo conversation affected you?

We want to hear your thoughts. Whether you work in tech, government, media, finance, the arts or another field, has sexual harassment or sexism affected you or the culture you work in? Are you becoming more cautious with co-workers or other people in your life?  

We shouldn’t want to give up what we get from looking up to another person — such as an example that inspires us to do better ourselves, or a sense of identity with people who revere the same person. Disappointment is always a possibility, but it might be less painful if we didn’t think that a person who is good in one way must be good in other ways as well, or even in all ways.

I wasn’t surprised when women came forward to say that Roy Moore, the Alabama senate candidate, had molested them or tried to date them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. I already thought of Moore as a bad person for his crusade against gay people, for one thing, and bad people do bad things.

I wasn’t surprised that Harvey Weinstein took advantage of women who were sometimes in awe of him and who wanted a break they thought he could give them. (Power and adoration is a dangerous mix.) And, as with Moore, I’d invested no feelings in him that could be hurt. I feel for the people they wronged, but I don’t have the feeling of being let down that I might have gotten from someone I thought well of, even someone like Charlie Rose who existed on the margins of my awareness.

Apparently good people who do bad things are a disappointment. And yet, anyone could quickly fill a sheet of paper with the names of people of great reputation in one area of life who were flawed in some way.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi was internationally beloved while she fought for democracy in Myanmar. But now she runs the government and is being blamed for not stopping the persecution of the Rohingya minority.

Long ago I got used to the idea that any great figure that I admired, present or past, might turn out to be racist. I learned to appreciate the good things they did, while detesting the bad, if the bad wasn’t too bad. With every person, the mixture is different.

Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were both U.S. founders and slave owners. I can appreciate what they accomplished in creating a nation and, at the same time, hold them accountable for depriving other humans of their freedom. I can’t say they were good men, only that they did good things as well as bad. They both knew that slavery was wrong, but their wealth depended on it, and that was more important than the lives of the people they enslaved.

I have no respect for Jefferson, for instance, because he fathered children with an enslaved woman and pushed ideas about black inferiority that still linger in the United States. He didn’t think highly of Indians or women, either.

There are no perfect people. Being good and bad in little ways is common. Being really good and really bad is not that uncommon, but I don’t believe it is the case most of the time.

I’m reminding myself to admire the good that people do without yielding to the temptation to believe that one aspect of a person’s life is all that there is.

There are many people whose good actions far outweigh the bad. And there are many for whom the opposite is true, as we are discovering with each new allegation of sexual abuse.

Admire good actions without assuming too much about what lies beneath.