“Have you ever seen the show Amish Mafia?” someone asked me
“It’s amazing,” he went on. “They cheat and they lie and they fight. It shows they are really human!”
Is showing that we actually engage in bad behaviour required to show that we are human? I am willing to believe that even the most righteous and well disciplined Amish person is still human, basically because I never met anyone who wasn’t really human.
When a mythmaker wanted to repopularize King Alfred, he reissued a hagiography written by one of his courtiers. The problem was that the story was a little too positive, too glowing, so he added in a story from another source which told of the king being berated by an old woman for letting the cakes burn by the fire.
Every British schoolchild now knows how King Alfred burned the cakes, just like American schoolchildren know how George Washington chopped down a cherry tree and did not lie, another mythical event.
We seem to want to know where other people have weaknesses, otherwise we think they are hiding something, that they are just too good to be true.
It is one thing to want to humanize someone by proving them flawed, though the need for that still escapes me, as everyone is human, but it is another thing to create TV shows dedicated to showing people acting badly and then justifying that spotlight by saying we are only proving that they are human.
Aren’t they human too when they do the boring, gracious, measured acts that build community and create safety?
We live in a world where sitting in the living room and watching others act badly has become a guilty pleasure. We rationalize our viewing by saying that it just proves that people really are the ratfinks we always thought they were, but secretly we are delighted that their bad behaviour takes us off the hook for our own unhealed and untranscendent choices.
When our choices are seen next to the well edited and wild videos of others acting badly, we can believe that we look angelic, even if we still act out regularly.
Is the only way we can prove that we are really human to act in bad, self-centred and thoughtless behaviours? Is ill-considered and vulgar crap what distinguishes real humans from phony ones?
We live in a world that loves the lowest common denominator. Everyone can laugh at a good fart joke, but appreciating the sublime wit of a sly syllogism? Not only do some people not get the joke, but they can also feel angry that anyone would make a joke they don’t understand, can feel like that kind of thoughtful jibe is so offensively challenging that they have permission to act out in an attempt to cut the other person down to size.
George Washington lived by a canon of rules for civility and decent behaviour. Would having video of him getting drunk and puking in someone elses tricorn hat make him really human? Or would it just let us dismiss any pressure we might feel to follow his lead in living the life of a good human on good behaviour?
Isn’t the point of touches of humanity in historical myths that we too, as frail and fallible humans, can work to achieve greatness?
I’m pretty sure that’s not the point of Amish Mafia. Proving that even a few of people in a most devout and ordered culture have lapses doesn’t really prove that everyone’s devotion and discipline is really just a fraud, even if if their bad behaviour does entertain you and make you feel self-righteous.
I don’t believe that anyone needs to prove they are really human, or that the fact that someone is making mostly good choices means that they are a fraud, hiding something. I trust that they are just human and that they puke and shit and bleed just like any of us, even if they decide not to let that mess define them.
We are not humans living a spiritual life, we are spirit living a human life. The human part is real, fragile, wounded and hurting, is erotic, sweaty, intense and tired, all that.
But sometimes, the spirit is strong, too.
And that is also human.