A murderer is a person, too. Like you and me. A person who probably shares a lot in common with you and me, in fact.
Some folks were reading this will no doubt ask me why I think that this matters at all. To which I say: have you ever intimately known somebody who has intentionally killed another person before? If the answer is yes – whether or not you still keep in touch with such a person – you can’t tell me that this doesn’t matter.
I’m also not just talking about murderers. I’m talking about abusers, sinners, lunatics, nervous wrecks, narcissists, idiots, good-for-nothings, creeps, kooks, screwballs, jackasses, cheaters, losers, and so on.
We are best able to break free from the ruts we fall into when we don’t let ourselves think of ourselves as “a _____.” It’s a common theme these days to not want to have one’s identiy confined to certain labels. Well … let’s accord that freedom from labels to others as much as possible. After all, the only way people that have screwed up in life are able to move on is when they are able to see their personhood independently of the screw-up. This of course includes people that have killed others.
What a person has done in the past matters, and has an impact on the present. But there is a world of difference between the two. It’s the difference between Malcolm X the street criminal and Malcolm X the revolutionary activist, for example. I’m quite sure that a lot of the things Malcolm X learned on the street stayed with him when he studied and became an international figure – things that, in fact, made him better able to avoid trouble in later life. But he would never have gotten that far if he hadn’t seen himself as something better than a criminal.
Some labels are positive. I don’t know too many engineers, for example, that would feel put down if somebody refers to them as engineers. But when a label is unabashedly negative and puts somebody down, it should be retired. No matter how ugly the person it is being applied to appears. Because it is an assault, and assaults of any kind are destructive, verbal as well as physical.
Obviously, this is in some ways a far-flung pipe dream. Many people are going to keep on using negative labels towards others no matter what. But I choose not to, and I hope you will do the same. Often, it’s those who cling most to the labels that most fear being marked and blackballed themselves – and it’s a lot easier to feel less trapped when you aren’t in the business of entrapping others.