If there’s one thing I’ve managed to figure out by this point; one thing that has enabled me to enjoy (or at least try to enjoy) every person I’ve encountered in my life, it’s this: People are imperfect. Incredibly imperfect. Predictably imperfect. Perfectly imperfect. Count on it.
Ignore this essential truth, and you will consign yourself to a life of disappointment and disillusionment. Acknowledge it, and you can find something redeeming in just about anyone. After 45 years, my shit list is about 2 people deep. And even then, I’m prepared to move them off that list under the right circumstances. I aspire to have a shit list that is completely empty.
A corollary to this, for me, is that even people that show tremendous courage, that behave in objectively heroic ways–they are beautifully imperfect too. The gifted pop star who can’t mother her children. The home run hitter who is blinded by his narcissism. The ground-breaking politician with a reckless addiction.
So I am loathe to embrace anyone wholeheartedly, because we are all those MacPaint color wheels. A kaleidoscopic hodgepodge of so many traits. “Good” and “bad” but mostly everything in the circumference and in between.
Still, on occasion, someone says or writes or does something remarkable. Something that is so profoundly meaningful, so incredibly courageous, so contrary to their own self-interest. Something that makes my neck hairs bristle and cheeks flush. Something so inspiring that it’s just not good enough to “Like” or “Share” it on Facebook.
For me, the actress Ellen Page’s “coming out” speech yesterday is one such occasion.
To me, this is what it means to show true courage, to demonstrate what genuine humanity looks like. Sure, she’s not destitute and never will be. However, she undoubtedly eviscerated what Hollywood refers to as her “marketability.” Even if there are enlightened, right-thinking studio heads, there are enough movie-goers who will from this point forward refuse to see her movies. Studio heads know this. And studio heads don’t stay studio heads if they don’t churn out highly profitable movies. Ellen Page now represents a very real risk to that model. It takes real courage to act against your own self-interest, particularly acting against your own financial self-interest. Ellen Page just cost herself tens of millions of dollars. Perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars over the remaining life of her acting career. Who among us would be willing to step forward into the hot spotlight, knowing to do so would mean giving up the prospect of hundreds of millions of dollars?
Her speech is way bigger than money, of course, and it feels wrong even to try to quantify it this way. But it’s interesting to apply dollar figures to courageous decisions. World history is full of courageous acts that are aligned with the actor’s own self-interest. Misaligned or even pulling in the opposite direction? Not so much.
While fueling up to head to a testosterone-infused baseball tourney this morning, I placed my iPhone with Ellen’s speech queued up into my 12 year-old’s hands. “I want you to watch this. This is what real courage looks like.” I hope that her speech counterbalances whatever misogynistic, materialistic (but popular) lyrics will be pumping through his headphones this weekend.
I may be a right-thinking, grown man now. But I absolutely called my childhood buddies “fags” so as to tease and demean them. So I am as guilty as anyone else in creating an environment that made and continues to make people like Ellen Page (or, more accurately, anyone with traits or beliefs that are considered “non-traditional”) feel unwelcome. Feel that they are somehow not right. That they are wrong. I can’t apologize enough for my failures there in not being a better young man, a better human. And certainly no amount of blogging at this late date is going to undo the fact that I gave currency to that hateful crap.
But you can be damn sure that I will not allow my own boys free reign to say whatever they wish to “fit in” with the crowd. I’m grateful for opportunities like Ellen Page’s speech to hold up as examples of what it means to be a “good man,” to be a “good human.” I will continue to work my ass off on this. I don’t want bigots squeezing my hands on my death bed. I want solid human beings squeezing my hands; my young men who (hopefully) have learned to look at people by the quality of their character, and to be comfortable in their own character, comfortable in their own skin. I think this is important, about as important as it gets.
Thanks for reading.