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When Good People Do Bad Things

I knew her. Not like I know my own husband or children…or even my closest friends. But, I knew her. Or, at least I thought I did. I deeply admired her kindness and willingness to help others. And, most others said the same thing. She always seemed to have a positive attitude and wanted the best for people. Then she plotted to kill her ex-husband.

I’ve watched programs about Ted Bundy and others who intentionally commit heinous murders yet live a seemingly normal life; and I wonder how such a dichotomy can exist in a human being. This woman was no serial killer. But, how can such a wonderful person do something so terrible?

This question haunted me. It shook the very foundation in which I stood and and made me question everything I thought I knew about human nature. People who do this sort of thing typically have mental problems and are on medication. But, this woman was extremely healthy and ran a nutrition company. So, what was her excuse…her motive? Some would say “money.” But, I disagree. People don’t do bad things because of money. They do so out of FEAR of what will happen if they don’t have it. And, that fear can stem from any number of underlying issues. In some cases, it is fear of what others will think or that someone has more of it, which stems from a lack of self-esteem. Sometimes it is fear of not having basic needs (food, water, clothing, shelter) and what might happen as a result.

Fear is the motive behind many bad decisions. The kid who brings a knife to school for fear of being beaten up. The woman who steals a blouse because she’s afraid she’ll look bad in a job interview. The man who expenses some family dinners because he’s afraid his family won’t love him if he can’t provide. The woman who has sex because she thinks that’s what men want and afraid she’ll be alone if she doesn’t. There are countless examples. Not all bad choices are fear-based, however. Some stem from anger and resentment, both of which occur because someone feels wronged or hurt in some way. This can spawn a desire for retaliation….“I’ll show you!!!” This rarely ends well.

When I was a little girl, I was molested by my stepfather. As a teen and young adult, I wanted to hurt him. I never wanted to kill him, though. I don’t have it in me to end a human life; but I wanted to beat the tar outa him! I used to envision myself running into him and going ape-shit-crazy on him. Fortunately, I sought to heal that trauma and no longer harbor ill-will toward him. In fact, I genuinely feel sorry for him. He, too, had his own trauma that caused him to make such inappropriate decisions. But what if I HAD run into him? What if I had whipped out my can of whoop-ass and, in getting out my aggression toward him, accidentally killed him? Would that have made me a horrible person? Or, do you feel I would have been justified? It’s a thought to ponder.

Don’t get me wrong…the molestation situation and plotting to kill someone are very different. But, my point is that “good” people” can do bad things. And, it doesn’t necessarily make them “bad” people altogether. Even Ted Bundy could have been considered to be a good person. He was very kind and loving to the woman he wanted to marry. Does that justify his murders? Absolutely not!!!!!!! But, it is important to understand that people are not inherently bad. Things happen to happen to them that cause them to behave in a certain way. Nevertheless, it is disheartening that anyone can come to the conscious conclusion to take a human life.

Although it can be very difficult to come to terms with such events (especially when you've only seen the good side of a person), it does no good to harbor ill will toward them. It’s just adding more negative energy to an already negative situation. You can forgive without condoning the behavior. This continues to be something I work on...some situations being far more challenging than others.

When I feel upset by someone else’s behavior, I try and ask myself two questions: 1) why am I being triggered by this incident (an opportunity for me to heal) and 2) what may have happened to that person to cause them to behave in such a way (which allows me to have empathy). I also remember, I am not perfect. I have done my own bad things in life…understanding “bad” can be subjective. I’ve needed the forgiveness of others…perhaps some of which I never received…a feeling that still lingers in me to this day.

We cannot change the past. It’s done. And, although the ripple effect may continue, we can disrupt it, just like poking a stick in rippling water…those ripples continue elsewhere, yet where the stick was placed is forever changed. We can all chose to be the stick, disrupting the power of blame, anger and hatred. It's liberating to release this bondage and forgive.

So, when good people do bad things 1) understand their act is a cry for help, 2) acknowledge the good in them, 3) recognize the part in you that may also need healing and 4) disrupt the burden of the negative ripple effect by creating one of empathy and forgiveness. Be the change.

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