I loved Prince. Not everything he did, but a lot. And even if I didn’t get it, I appreciated that someone else loved it. He was a musical genius. With genius comes fringe ideas. He had some irrational views that have surfaced I don’t agree with that may be considered harmful, such as his endorsement of views about the poisoning of African American communities by chemtrails, manganese and whatever was put in malt liquor. He was a Jehovah’s Witness and was apparently against gay marriage. I don’t really know how fervently he believed in these things. I don’t seek expert advice from actors, singers or reality-show celebrities, so what he said about these subjects never crossed my mind.
But I see people struggling with this. I do too.
Every time I posted an obituary on Doubtful News, there were plenty of positive and negative comments about the person who passed. My job there was to run a website promoting science and reason, so I was not going to sacrifice that view or change my mind just because that person is now not living. But I didn’t gloat personally in the death of anyone; I pointed out their accomplishments best I could but remained disappointed that they did what they did with their time on earth. Death doesn’t erase your life’s work.
For example, I couldn’t find a nice thing to say about psychic Sylvia Browne but I assume her family was hurt by her passing. She might have been a nice person to someone, I wouldn’t know that because I can’t know everything and that’s not how she presented herself. The hatred that spewed from the skeptical community when she died was ugly and not useful to any positive goal. But I knew that would happen.
I took a stand that astronaut Edgar Mitchell disgraced the nation with his nonsense UFO talk. People argued that he still was a hero for our space program. I don’t disagree, but I abhorred the current view he pushed. It’s my opinion colored by my experiences. My values are going to be different than the next person.
I wanted these people to stop promoting their harmful ideas in society. If they had just stopped, I would have been happy, but they didn’t obligatorily stop, they died. Public shaming is not the way to go for a civil society for anyone, dead or alive. It was a tough task to deftly note the bad while acknowledging the positive. And, readers will latch on to what they feel at the time and pummel you if it riles them.
I totally get that you might feel annoyed by my admiration of someone who irks you, because I really get perturbed that you support the person I think is a total jerk unworthy of praise.
So, people are flawed. They aren’t perfect and they constantly screw up. More examples I’ve come across:
- Foo Fighters once supported an anti-HIV/AIDS agenda. But I still love their stuff and that’s what they will be remembered for.
- Joe Paterno was a sports icon and a great man, helping many students at PSU, but he was implicated in the Sandusky child abuse cover-up before he died.
- Richard Dawkins is an amazing speaker and science communicator but expresses some extremely strange opinions about Muslims and feminism.
- When Glenn Frey of The Eagles died, the first thing some did was point out what he jerk he was to other band members.
The point is that people who achieve some great things in life may have serious shortcomings in other parts. I could go on and on with examples. I’m sure you can think of dozens more. If we open ourselves up, we see our own serious flaws, too. In fact, I don’t know if you can find someone who is universally loved and untarnished. Isn’t it best to just acknowledge this and deal with it instead of allowing disagreement to turn to hate? *
We have every right to disagree on personal views or actions, but it should not preclude us from acknowledging accomplishments people genuinely earned. That’s easier to say than do. We can’t help but insert our gripes into the discussion of how awesome this person or group was if our opinion is colored by different values and experiences. (Yes, this could head into moral relativism but that’s not where I intended to go. I’m not being philosophical as much as being practical in terms of having a more rational society.)
I would prefer we not do it but social media encourages us to do so. It prompts us with a blank space to type in “What do you think?”. (It should say “What do you feel?” because commenters often respond with emotion rather than well-thought out statements.) We are expected to respond with our two cents.
If I could hope for improvement, I would suggest we withhold opinions on some things in general conversation with each other and on social media unless asked. I’m working on this myself, trying to be more open and understanding towards positive aspects people find in what I might consider awful. And, I’m trying to keep my mouth shut in personal conversations if bringing up a point will cause trouble. I’m opinionated so this is rather difficult, but I’m still trying because I believe it will make for a better, more civil, society. Unfortunately, our society runs on outrage and controversy these days. It’s rare to be asked for a reasonable opinion when clickbait is all the rage. So, the not-so-beautiful side of Prince has come out in the past 12 hours. I don’t think what the media gives us is what we really want or what is actually helpful.
People, society, culture, the world – it’s complicated. Be more thoughtful.
*I have my own public disputes with people, for sure. I know they have problems with me. But I don’t think I ever publicly shamed them, or insulted them without provocation. I remain open to resolving such disputes instead of holding grudges.