The Responsibilities of Good Guys

spidey-sense-authoritiesLooking at the news, there seem to be a lot of bad guys running around lately, pretty much doing as they please. Why is that? Aren’t there at least as many good guys as bad?

Well, that depends on what you mean by, “good guys.”

Good guys aren’t the same as “good people” or “decent people.” There are plenty of those around, and thank goodness for it. That’s why you stand a chance of getting your wallet back when you drop it in a dressing room and you don’t get punched in the face when you’re standing in line at Subway talking loudly on the phone about your goiter.

Being a good guy means more than just being nice. Good guys are the people you turn to when you need someone to face down evil. And that’s the thing: there are obligations that come with being a good guy. Hard obligations, dangerous obligations.

A lot of the people who used to be good guys have gotten out of the good guy business. In America, we’ve spent the last couple of convincing ourselves that we’re not good, and I think at least part of the reason for that is that we no longer want the responsibilities that go along with being the good guys.

Those times we try to be the good guys, our efforts are halting and uncertain. More and more, we’re not making an effort at all. In Iraq, Nigeria, and the Ukraine, the bad guys operate with impunity. Of course we condemn their actions and give them the same look that the ladies in the senior center give to those awful smoking teenagers in the park, but both they and we know that we’re not going to do anything about it. Because really, who are we to impose our values on them?

We abandon the responsibility that comes with our power, hoping that things will just work themselves out. You hear our leaders often say that such-and-such bad actor is “on the wrong side of history,” as if “history” is some cosmic high school principal that’s going to swoop in and set everything right.

But that’s not the way it works. The only thing that makes history happen is us. If the good guys won’t do it, the bad guys certainly will.

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