Personal identity proves not black and white

illustration by Chaeyeon Park

illustration by Chaeyeon Park

Lizzie Garvey, co-opinions editor

As I drove down Forest Way late one weeknight, I put every Rainbow Kitten Surprise song on shuffle to fit the mood. “Devil Like Me”, a song I’d never heard before, soon came on.  It sounded like any other Rainbow Kitten Surprise song at first, not a stand-out, until one line played that’s taken hold of my psyche since.

Is the devil so bad if he cries in his sleep?

With this single lyric, lead singer Sam Melo begs a question that’s often pondered but never exactly answered: what does it mean to be a good person?

Since childhood, everything we see or hear seems to have a common theme: there are good guys, there are bad guys.  Stick with the good ones, stay away from the bad ones.  It seems like common sense that it must not be so black-and-white, that people are complicated and human nature is something we couldn’t hope to fully understand. I’ve begun to realize, however, that the same black-and-white mentality we’re taught then stays with us, and it’s almost instinctual to rank everyone you know on the extremely subjective spectrum of ‘goodness’.

But is there really a spectrum?  People have motives and past trauma that impact the actions they take. Over the past few years, I’ve had people I consider(ed) friends do some questionable things, and then have heard those things written off because of other circumstances: depression, insecurities, family issues, etc.

When it comes to people I’ve been close with, I’ve pondered over whether someone so great could do something bad, or if they could’ve been that great in the first place.  Those with ‘reasoning’ behind their actions conjure questions of whether these reasons can really act as a pardon.

It all begs the original question posed by Sam Melo: if the devil cries in his sleep, can he really be all that bad?  If he has a terrible life, loads of past trauma, can he still be held accountable for his actions and do they define him as a person?  Can there be viable ‘excuses’ for the things people do?

I don’t have a definite answer by any means, but I’ve arrived at the conclusion that most often there are no good people, no bad people; instead, there are just people.  They occasionally do good things and they occasionally do bad things (however subjective that is), but most of these things don’t necessarily define who they are.

It’s a vague answer to Melo’s question, but that’s because human nature itself is vague, and it’s something I don’t think anyone will ever be able to fully understand.  What I do know for sure is that I’ll never forget that one song lyric I heard on a long drive, and I’ll never stop asking myself how to characterize the people I love, the people that I don’t particularly love, and everyone in between, myself included.