This week Prime Minister Trudeau learned that the adage “There is no such thing as bad publicity,” is not 100% true. I think Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein would agree with that. As you likely know, this past week the Prime Minister had to apologize for having worn brown-face eighteen years ago. I’m not a politics junky – I joke that I vote for the party with the prettiest coloured sign – but this situation connects to a much bigger question: When is the past the past? When I work with people who struggle with regret and shame (common symptoms of those with depression and anxiety) this question always comes up because a lot of mental illness stems from being haunted by the past. How people are handling the Prime Minister’s situation plays into a major fear: Our mistakes can and will be used against us for the rest of our lives.
To be honest, I’d say that I haven’t been attacked for all of the dumb things I’ve done in the past because I’m a nobody. If I were to become famous, there are plenty of social mistakes I’ve made that could be used against me. There are things I said this week that could be used against me because I made a mistake or if someone wanted to hate me they could easily distort what I said (this post is at risk of that). One of my biggest mistakes is when I was a child I was adamant that being gay meant you were going to hell. I don’t believe that anymore, but does it matter? By my late teens this opinion was changing as songs like “I’m the Only Gay Eskimo” (it’s as classy as the title sounds) made me see homosexuality as a more normal thing. In fact, in my OAC yearbook, under my graduation picture I have it printed: May your life be merry and gay, not vice versa. In my defense, they printed it thereby proving it was an acceptable comment at that time; now it wouldn’t be, but I wouldn’t have submitted it either. When I wrote it, I didn’t mean any harm; I was just trying to be clever, but this could easily be held against me as proof that I’m a homophobic, religious bigot (hopefully you know I’m not). In my therapy practice I regularly work with homosexual couples and I enjoy it as much as working with heterosexual couples (couples are couples to me) and I believe I’ll see gay people in Heaven because my opinion has completely changed. But will this be held against me one day?
Please know, I’m not saying what the Prime Minister did was right, but it scares me how people want to destroy him for it. When I was ten years old I was in a play called Christmas Around the World where the star of the show, me (naturally), was Captain Christmas and I took the audience on a voyage around the world to see how other countries celebrated Christmas. Being at an all-white church in the late 80s we didn’t have people who looked Spanish or African and in order to make it more “authentic” there was a lot of makeup. I was part of a production where we had brown face. Were we evil? No, it was innocent and happened in an environment where it was acceptable. I’m not justifying the Prime Minister’s behaviour, but at that time in his life he had been role modeled to believe this was okay to do and he worked in an environment where it was acceptable. Would he do that now? I highly doubt it just like I doubt where he worked would accept it. Like most people, he’s changed. Was he originally trying to attack or make fun of brown people? I doubt it, but even if he did, he’s had eighteen years and new teachers to help him see what is wrong and what is acceptable. So when is the past the past, and when do we show grace to people who have changed?
What scares me is this attack is a prime example of how passive aggressive behaviour is accepted in our culture and almost encouraged in the media to create a story. If this was about the hurt the Prime Minister caused by wearing brown makeup, this should have been brought up when it wasn’t the start of the campaign trail. This isn’t about rectifying a hurt, however, it’s about causing more hurt and to distract people from what elections should be about: Voting for a party’s policies (or colour choice).
This nationally known passive aggressive attack fuels the fear that there are mean people in our world who just want to hurt us and will use our mistakes against us. I for one don’t want to let this mean behavior be ignored. I want to make a stand and say we need to stop passive aggressive backstabbing behaviour meant to tear people down. It’s sneaky and emotionally crippling. We need to stop creating pain where there doesn’t need to be any. We need to start not taking things so personally and learn how to laugh more. We need to start being more patient with others. We need to start being more patient with ourselves and that can only happen if we stop using the past as ammunition to attack ourselves and others. Using the past as a teaching tool is constructive; using it as a weapon is destructive.
This week may we all stop letting people get away with being passive aggressive and sneaky mean.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people