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SUP NERDS

I’m not even gonna pretend that I’ve come back permanently for any predetermined length of time.  Just keep checking; I’ll post something at some point in your life. But onward to the point!

My school has an anonymous ‘Confessions’ page.  This is basically what it sounds like.  It’s a Facebook page run by an unknown individual at the college (theories abound, but we won’t investigate them at the moment), with a link to a survey site.  Fill out an anonymous survey and the page admin reads it (anonymously) and posts it on the site without your name ever being involved.  Anyone who sees the page can post on it, write on it, read it, whatever.  Many colleges have this exciting feature.

It’s a shit show.

We can pretend otherwise, I can dress it up with fancy psychological terms, but it’s basically a shit show.  People talk about booze, bowel movements, pet peeves, relationships, and personal problems.  The audience is sympathetic to the first two and the last one.

It interests me.  First because some of the commentary is hilarious, to say nothing of the posts themselves.  The usual anonymous online dickery ensues—people passive-aggressively calling one another out anonymously for being too passive-aggressive, and so forth.

Sometimes, someone will post something that looks serious.  They’ll talk about their self-harm issues, suicidal ideation, PTSD, body image problems, etc.  And by and large the response to these is good—not a lot of people shaming, condemning, hating, lots of people encouraging, offering phone numbers and emails and websites.  My school still seems to have nice people.

The other day I read a post on there.  I don’t remember what it was about—some personal issue.  I was about to join the chorus of positive responses, but I thought to myself, “You know, I don’t know who this is.  I know who it might be, though.  It might be someone I don’t know.  It might be someone I don’t like. It might be one of the people who, were I to meet them, I would strike repeatedly with a blunt object. I don’t know if I want to let this person know I care about them when I don’t know them.”

I then immediately felt uncomfortable.  I wasn’t quite sure why, but I felt repulsed by the thought.  I replied to the post, encouraging, positive—after all, they were going through something rough.  Fast forward a few weeks.

The other day I watched Les Miserables. The film adaptation is a remarkable and striking experience.  It’s intimate in a way a stage production cannot be, and arresting in a way the novel cannot be.  The writers did a remarkable job of fine-tuning the story, and granting it an arc which seems much more plain in the film than it did in the novel.

Les Miserables, to give a quick, bare-boned sketch for those who have not seen it [SPOILERS] is the story of a convict named Jean Valjean.  He is released on parole and commits a minor theft—for which he could be returned to prison for decades.  However, the victim intercedes for him, corroborating his alibi, and enjoins upon him to “become an honest man.” Valjean, his life spared and his moment of wrongdoing revealed, is stricken with shame and uses the stolen goods to become an honest man—a very honest, wealthy man, in fact.  But he is still haunted at every turn by the constable who released him from prison, a man known as Javert.

A man is captured who resembles Valjean, and this hapless lookalike is set to be tried and sentenced in Valjean’s stead.  The disguised convict is transfixed by this moral quandary—does he give himself up, or allow the innocent man to be condemned?

But he does the right thing, regardless.  And this is a theme that repeats throughout the novel—Valjean is faced with a dilemma, to save himself or to help another, and each time he chooses to do good.  And each time it turns out better and better.

This is what we call ‘fiction.’

(if you’re a Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder nerd, keep reading—otherwise, you may want to skip this paragraph; it has a distinctly nerdy flavour)

(then again, if you’re not a nerd, why are you reading this blog?)

The conflict between Valjean and Javert is not one of good vs. evil, morality and immorality—for Valjean and Javert are both potent forces for good in the world (even more so in the novel).  My brother likes to complain that Javert is one of the irritating paladins, the lawman who sticks to the letter of the law and seeks to bring all to salvation through enforcement of his code.  But my response is that Valjean is also a crusader, a paladin, but with his code being one of pure good.  He desires only to help everyone and be as good and honest a man as he can (while protecting his daughter).  And in this clash between Good and Law it is (in the end) the Good that wins out—for Good can adapt and change to whatever form it finds itself in, but when Javert finds himself in a scenario for which no law has been written, he self-destructs in a moment of existential crisis.

AND THE POINT OF THIS LONG DIGRESSION IS

We watch throughout the (film/operetta/novel) as Valjean helps people.  Some of them deserve it.  Some of them don’t.  Some of them wish to do him harm. Some of them want to bang his daughter.  He helps them all indiscriminately, because that is how he rolls.  He doesn’t make judgments about who he helps and who he doesn’t.  Homey don’t play that.

And when I watched Les Miserables the other day, my intuition about that pesky train of thought came clearer.  “I don’t know if I want to let this person know I care about them when I don’t know them. It might be someone I don’t like.”

But it doesn’t matter. There are people I don’t like.  There are people I don’t know.  There are people who I want to strike repeatedly with a spoon.  But they’re people. They’re human, as most people are. The ones that aren’t human (a) kill people and eat them or (b) think they’re a macaque.  Hitler liked to talk to children, hold dinner parties, and dick around with oil paints.  The people I don’t like are people too.  And I don’t dislike people all the way through—how could I?? You can’t dislike everything about a person! We share the same basic, fundamental needs and wants.  That’s how empathy works, understanding how your desires are similar to the desires of others.

In real life, there are people I would throttle with a mink stole or beat with a spoon.

But in real life, if they came to me for help, or told me about a problem, one that was life-threatening and miserable, then no, I would not hit them with a spoon.  I might lecture them, loudly and repeatedly, but I would do it while helping them, while directing them to the nearest counselor or tying on a tourniquet. And a couple of you know that’s true, so don’t scoff at me. Nerd.

No human being deserves absolute condemnation—and that’s why I think this article is amazing. It’s about a revolutionary new approach to school discipline being implemented in Washington—not yelling at troubled children. It sounds so obvious when I sneer at it like that, but GUESS WHAT, our school system today pretty much consists of doing just that. And, funny thing, turns out when you give troubled children a safe, supportive, caring, stable environment, THEY DO PRETTY WELL.  And not just in terms of grades—socially, psychologically, emotionally—across the board, better.  “Problem children” improve, become nicer.  Formerly ‘delinquent’ children, ‘troublemakers,’ stop lashing out.

Prison systems in Norway are the most humane in the world.  Guess where some of the world’s highest rehabilitation rates are for criminals? Did you guess America? Not quite, but thanks for playing—the answer’s NORWAY.

Now, I’m not Jean Valjean.  For one thing, I’m not French.  And I can’t sing.

But what I can do is do good.  And do better.

I’m not proud of the thought that came to me some weeks ago as I sat before an anonymous confession page, but I’m not ashamed of it either.  It led me to a (slightly) deeper understanding of myself, and now I’ve inflicted it upon all you lot as well.

So I suppose the moral of this story, this little blog post about doing-good-no-matter-what, the moral of this story is READ LES MISERABLES.  YES, YOU.  It’s magnificent.

COMING UP NEXT TIME, an EXCITING RANT about why IGNORANCE IS NOT IMMORAL.

LATER NERDS.

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