Good Guys and Bad Guys

by Terry Sterrenberg


“The ideal subject of the totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists.” Hanah Arendt, “The Origins of Totalitarianism” (1951)

I have been avoiding commenting on national news because the way people are thinking about everything from January 6 to vaccines has been baffling. I connect the attitude about the 2020 election and the attitude about vaccines. I realize they are not the same, but they do have similarities. They both engender a self righteous mindset that prevents meaningful dialogue and problem solving. They both make us question our sense of reality and invert what we know in our hearts to be true and right. I recently found the above quote from Arendt and it shot me in my core. Of course, that is it. Common truth and fact can not be defined any more. That is why I feel paralyzed in my core. No rational argument has influence. Nothing I say ultimately makes the difference.

This awareness has lead me to some of the old adages from my past; Go inward (remember “Be Here Now”?), Go local, start small, be intimate, build trust, speak your truth, listen to the truth of others. But here comes the question “what do you do when the truth of others feels false and drives you crazy because they have no distinction between truth and falsehood?” My answer in the past has been to stop speaking to those persons (too confusing). And only speak to those who are open to my thoughts, This closes me off from the thoughts of those who think differently from me.

As part of my reset I recently have had a few conversations with some who believe differently than me about public health and vaccines. I’m not very good at it. I found these conversations exhausting and mind bending. At the same time I made a discovery. Some of the people I talked to believe in some of the same adages I mentioned above. I discovered that stepping out of self righteousness invites commonality and can establish a foundation on which to build trust with some people. Seems like I used to know this. Perhaps a casualty of covid and political propaganda?

Another question: “ Are there good guys and bad guys here?” There certainly is division. Most would agree that our country is divided. However perhaps no more than ever before. Our perspective of who are the good guys and who are the bad guys depends on which side of the division you stand and what values you propose. The difference between now and then is that many have forgotten our commonness. People’s stance in life is a result of their life experience. I really believe that most people try to do what they believe to be right even when they act against their own self interest. The present era has turned traditional political divisions into a battle for the existence of democracy, away from the meeting and melding of ideas and ideology.

I miss the ideology and goodwill of inclusion that includes the mentality that all of us are really trying to figure out what to do. Simplistically it used to be that “bad guys” were mainly those that wanted to do harm to others. Seems that those that want to do harm feel no good will and those that seem to have good will still do harm at times. Those that do harm just know what they want for themselves and act on their self righteous beliefs of what is good for them and perhaps what they think is right. It is the easy way out. They don’t have to take any one else into account.

”Thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge.”— Carl Jung