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Does our past define us?

Humans make mistakes all the time, whether by accidentally offending somebody or by losing the trust of a friend. It is in these mistakes that we grow and learn more about ourselves and prevent future occurrences. Given the inherently flawed nature of humans, we usually cannot hold someone accountable to mistakes that they have made in the past.

Our past should not define us because humans have the capacity to change. Mistakes are merely an indicator of someone’s personality at that specific moment, and because personality is malleable and constantly changing, it is unfair to judge someone based on an act that they previously committed. Nearly everyone has regrets over things that they wished they could have done better, if given the chance.

Personally, I have made many mistakes that I wished I could have taken back. I have gotten in fights with my friends over trivial issues, and I have let detrimental emotions such as anger get the better of me when talking to my family members. However, in each case, I don’t regard these acts to be a reflection of my true personality, merely capricious bursts of emotions in the spur of the moment. Thus, past actions that fall under this category should not be used as a way to judge a person’s character.

But what about more serious and permanent mistakes, such as breaking the law? Even though there are exceptions, a person who has had a history of breaking the law can change and become a significantly better person. For example, Robert Downey Jr, a prominent actor who played Tony Stark in the Marvel film “Iron Man,” used to be a drug addict and a heavy drinker. In 1996, Downey was arrested for driving in Malibu under the possession of drugs, and he spent time in jail as a result. He also was caught wandering into his neighbor’s house while intoxicated and sleeping on the neighbor’s bed. Although Downey had a troubled past, he eventually overcame his obstacles, deciding to abstain from drugs in 2003. After this, he grew in popularity from acting in films such as” “Iron Man” and “Tropic Thunder,” going on to become one of the most successful actors in Hollywood. In this case, although Downey had a rough past, he overcame his troubles and showed us that humans can redeem their mistakes and change as people. His past actions do not define him as a person, and given how much he transformed, it would be unfair to judge his character now based on his past.

Some people might argue past actions are a strong indicator of one’s personality, which is fixed and will most likely not change. I do agree that past actions are sometimes good predictors of a person’s future personality and actions; however, I do not think that it should limit what people will become in the future because there’s always a possibility of someone changing. Therefore, in most cases, it is illogical to fix a permanent characteristic to a person based on their past.

That being said though, there are some instances in which a person’s past actions are irredeemable. Extreme and deliberate acts of evil, such as murder, sexual assault and rape, can not be forgiven and should be condemned. For example, Harvey Weinstein, a famous American film producer who was accused of sexual assault and abuse, should not be forgiven because his actions have harmed dozens of actresses and people. Because his immoral actions were over the span of 30 years, there is a small possibility of him changing. Thus, Weistein’s actions should be held against him because they were deliberate acts of evil that occurred constantly and regularly throughout his past.

With the exception of cases such as Weistein’s scandal, people can redeem themselves by committing to a different path. In Downey’s example, although he has made mistakes in the past, he put all that aside to start a new life. In addition, an admission of error and sometimes a formal apology can go a long way in redeeming someone.

In the end, I believe that we should focus on how a person is right now rather than worrying about what they were before. In this way, we can continue to embrace mistakes and grow as people.

By Raymond Dunn, Arts editor

Editorial cartoon by Justine Constantino


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