My father and I began swapping stories this week, as we do when we get to see each other. We realized that we both had experiences in which we, young and powerless, had someone powerful who was willing to bust through the expectations that they would side with others at their level. And this has made both of us fairly optimistic people who believe that justice can will out.
Not justice in some sort of karmic way, but the justice of “Yes, most people are good and will stand up for what’s right.”
In my case, I was a senior in high school, leaving early one afternoon to go audition for a theatre scholarship at a college. I went around picking up the necessary letters of recommendation. Without a word, the drama teacher handed me his. I read it in the room of my speech teacher. It was bad. I was confused. I knew he and I had some issues between us – I wasn’t the first – but even I knew the protocol for such things. If someone asks for a letter of recommendation, you say “no” or “yes.” But you don’t say “yes,” then write a bad letter. My speech teacher read it, and suggested I take it to our dean. I dropped it off, and went on to my next class.
Between classes that afternoon, my principal met me in the hall. “I don’t know why Mr. ___ wrote this, but it was wrong. And I am writing your letter.”
At least at my school, that just didn’t happen. A principal never spoke against a teacher to a student.
(I got the scholarship. And it turned out the teacher was a sociopath who did things far more vile than write bad letters.)
My father was at a state university that used to be a military college. He was on the school newspaper and a news story he’d written angered a colonel there. Dad was called in to his office and the colonel ripped him up one side and down the other, and demanded a retraction.
The problem was, the story was true. Dad, not knowing what else to do, went to see the president of the university. He explained what happened, and asked for advice.
The president said, “Well, I think I need to have a conversation with Colonel ___ to remind him who runs this school.”
University presidents just don’t do that.
We’ve had other experiences like that, over the years. But it’s not difficult to see how this sort of thing gave us confidence that for the most part, you can believe that justice guides most people, and when it doesn’t, there will be others willing to stand up for you, and against injustice.
Not all people have that, I realize. And so they come to an opposite feeling.
It’s an interesting thought, though, that when we don’t “circle the wagons,” when we stand up for what’s right and help someone with lesser power, especially someone younger, we’re not just affecting the situation, we’re shaping how they will see the world.