“Even extraordinary people make mistakes. That’s a given. It’s our response to those mistakes that defines us.”
– Jacqueline Sloane, NCIS
Season 15, Episode 7, “Burden of Proof”
Of course that’s true. We’re often very quick to judge, to be either self-righteous in anger or immovable in our defense, when our heroes make mistakes, and become demonized, like fallen angels. But that is a general response, and this speaks to something more specific.
It’s well known, people make mistakes. It’s also well known that they don’t have to be bad people to make those mistakes. Indeed, sometimes the worst of mistakes are made by the very best of people, and the price to be paid for them can be inordinately high. So, someone you admire and respect, someone you know is a good man, has made one, single mistake, they did something wrong once, and if it comes to light, they will lose quite nearly everything. And you’re the only one who knows. What do you do?
That is quite a difficult position to be put in, and that’s not even going into the exact, complicated nature of the situation in this episode. Skipping over most of the sordid details and spoilers, a good man, and a good agent, made a mistake on one of his cases, long ago, because he got too close to the situation. Now that chicken has come home to roost, and when that one bad thing from his past is exposed, it will destroy him, no matter how honorable his service has otherwise been.
That is, if his longtime friend chooses to expose him. And that’s what this quote is about.
It reminds me of another quote I wrote about awhile back, about how it doesn’t matter how much good you do, because that one bad thing you did will always be there, gnawing at your soul. That, however, is more about being destroyed from within by one’s mistakes. This situation will have a similar effect, of wiping out one man’s good works with one ill deed, but it won’t be his guilt that destroys him, it’ll be outside exposure. The ball isn’t in his court anymore, and now his friend is the one forced to make a choice.
The man’s friend could, in all feasibility, just keep quiet, just let his friend avoid the heavy consequence of what he’s done. Heck, how many times has exactly that happened, and in far worse circumstances?
I’m reminded of another story, where one man murdered another, believing the latter had taken and murdered his wife. Only later did he learn that his wife had left him, gone to another town, and committed suicide. Oh, yeah, he felt a little guilty for what he did… but not enough to just take the legal consequence of what he’d done. The sheriff was an old buddy of his, and, yeah, he felt a little bad for the murdered man… but he was just a strange freak and an outsider, while his buddy was just doing what any man would do in his place, right? There wasn’t anything wrong about the choice, just about the available information, and no one cared about the dead guy, right? So, the man skated and justice was not done, not for a long time. One man was guilty of murder, and the other was guilty of letting him go, because, “he was a good guy.”
How many times has that exact justification been used? How many times, by authority figures, by loved ones, by the public, that so-and-so was actually “a good guy,” and didn’t deserve the rightful consequence of their choice?
And with that excuse comes the loss of integrity and the onset of hypocrisy. To do a devil’s deed is one thing, and to cover it up “for a friend,” that is to do the same and worse. One man’s “bad thing” becomes a shared “bad thing.”
So, the choice one good man has to make is whether to stand apart from his friend’s sin or join him in it.
It’s always our own choices which define who we truly are. It doesn’t matter exactly what that choice is, whether it’s large or small, but the choice of whether or not to hold someone accountable or let them off just because we know them… well, that is a big one.
The choice that defines just just how dearly we really hold to the ideals of justice which we so loudly proclaim, that would be a big one, wouldn’t it?