A short essay
By Larry Hickman
Director of the Center for Dewey Studies
One of the most important things I have learned, and perhaps one of the most difficult to put into practice, is that most judgments about a person's tend to be premature. By this I mean that bad behavior on the part of others may not be indicative of bad character. Once we come to appreciate the role of change and novelty in human experience, and the marvelous plasticity of human mind, then no judgment about a person's character can be final until they are dead (and in some cases, not even then).
This is not to deny that there are people who exhibit pathological behavior as they interact with their fellow human beings. It is a notorious fact that people lie, steal, and worse. My point is instead to stress the ever-present possibility of new beginnings - the reality of fresh starts.
Some religious people call this re-birth. Some non-religious people call it redemption, or even re-inventing oneself. Regardless of what words we use, however, it is important to recognize potential for change and renewal in ourselves as well as others. For it is only under such circumstances that we will be able to confront our own mistakes - and even bad behavior - in ways that can promote personal growth. And it is only under such circumstances that we well be able to relate to others in ways that promote the growth of communities, and thus communal efforts.