Am I the a—hole?
I decided to stay in on a Saturday night. Naturally, while doing laundry to avoid any upcoming assignments, I sought entertainment. I remembered I was behind on one of my favorite podcasts—Oddvice—so I lazily opened my laptop and clicked on the most clickbait-y YouTube episode I saw: “Am I the A**hole?”
This episode was about a popular Reddit forum (or subreddit) of the same name, in which people write about personal arguments or conflicts where they are unsure if they were in the wrong (i.e. if they were the a—hole). Honestly, I think everyone who has written a post in this forum believes they were in the right—at least a smidge. I doubt someone would intentionally share their argument online to hear it lambasted.
In the podcast episode about the subreddit both Kristen McAtee and Alex Koot, the hosts, read out several posts, but I’d like to discuss the one that stuck with me.
The title of the post was jarring: “AITA for calling my girlfriend disgusting and telling her she should be ashamed when she was crying?” My internal dialogue as she finished reading it was going berserk. “Of course, of course you are! What kind of justification would anyone have to say that? Are they in their right mind asking this?”
The podcast host went on to explain the situation: The user who posted the story on the subreddit was the boyfriend of a mother who was disappointed in her own daughter for not being a popular cheerleader. The daughter is nerdy, into anime, and generally happy—and the mother hated this fact, sobbing while insisting her daughter was “a loser.”
After hearing the full context, all the previous negative thoughts I had about the boyfriend who posted this story were vacuumed out of my mind. I had a new perspective: “Wow, the girlfriend sucks. No, he’s not an a—hole, how sweet of him to look out for the daughter instead of consoling the woman he loves when he knows she’s in the wrong.” My image of this stranger had changed in a matter of seconds.
After hearing this story, I started to think about what it means to see someone as the “bad guy” in an argument. Are they actually a bad person or are we—the bystanders in the conflicts of others—missing their perspective of things?
I’m sure we all know alleged liars, cheaters, or backstabbers. Maybe their actions weren’t directed toward us but to someone else. Some of these people continue to be our friends, and others are only present in our lives as long-gone memories. That boyfriend’s account of his story may have friends and strangers on the internet rallying behind him, but what if I heard the story from the mother’s perspective?
Oftentimes, the people that wrong us—those “liars, cheaters, and backstabbers”—were once cherished people in our eyes. Meanwhile, we might think the wrongdoers who we remain friends with had some justification for their actions, in which we still feel able to recognize their good hearts.
Generally, I’d say that we shouldn’t cut people off because of one bad moment without trying to understand their motives. But, I believe it’s completely valid to recognize someone’s toxic patterns, or how terrible they make us feel, and decide to part ways with them.
In spite of that, I always come back to the idea that a person is not the worst thing they’ve ever done. It’s cruel of us to reduce a person to one act. People are more complex than their worst actions. They’re onions, made up of layers that peel back as we get to know them. To label someone as a “bad person” based on one action leaves no room for redemption or growth on their part. So I don’t think there’s such a thing as a bad person, just a bad person for YOU.