Paying It Forward

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So, I'm still thinking about Lilo Abernathy's awesome series opener, The Light Who Shines. The characters and plot have stayed with me and I find myself wondering what mysteries will be revealed in the next book. Today, I'm specifically thinking about the character of Jack Tanner, a Daylight Vampire who loves and protects the main protagonist, Blue, who is the Light Who Shines, even though we don't really know what that means yet. One of the fascinating aspects of Jack's character is his philanthropic activities. This is a man who puts his time and money toward many worthy charities and is clearly one of the good guys. And when Blue asks him about his charitable tendencies, he explains that he is paying it forward against the inevitable time when he, like all Vampires, will succumb to bloodlust and kill someone.

I found this idea of paying it forward against future bad behavior to be fascinating. It reminded me a bit of the Leon Uris Classic, QB7, in which a pillar of the community is accused of Nazi war crimes. In that book (and excellent movie), no one can believe that this upstanding gentleman whose life is filled with good deeds could possibly be the monster portrayed in the trial. But in the end (spoiler alert!), it comes out beyond a shadow of a doubt that the man is, in fact, guilty of heinous crimes against humanity. And that his subsequent lifetime of altruism was undertaken in an effort to make up for his past sins.

I find this whole concept of balance in judgment to be arresting, as it were. Is it truly possible to make amends that negate a terrible act? Either ahead of time like Jack Tanner (I love that name, by the way), or after the fact, like the guy in QB7?  I think, as imperfect humans, we really need to believe it is possible. Our whole justice system is based on the notion of paying our debts to society when we transgress and behave in an antisocial manner. And if the debt is deemed too big, at least in some places, we kill people here in America to "make up" for wrongs they have committed. Apparently the whole "eye for an eye" thing is an enduring value for many people. Personally, I think such a philosophy has the potential to leave the whole world blind.  Just sayin'.

I much prefer the Jack Tanner approach. He's determined to do as much good as possible before his inevitable fall from grace. If we went with the retributive justice approach (an eye for an eye), Jack (and all the Daylight Vampires in Lilo Abernathy's world) would be put down like rabid dogs against the time when they would take human life. In such a world, the inevitability of their committing murder would guarantee them a preemptive execution at the hands of a terrified populace. Such action would preclude any good these Vampires might accomplish in the world before their descent to bestiality and mindless bloodlust. Would that be a fair trade?  What would the people who have benefitted from Jack's largesse and generosity think about this? Would they consider it a just exchange?

Ms. Abernathy doesn't explore these questions, and, of course it wouldn't advance her complex and interesting plot at all to do so. But we can certainly think about the implications of the issues she has raised.  For me, I need to believe that the good we do can outweigh the bad. I also believe that the bad weighs more than the good, so we need to make sure our good deeds seriously outnumber the bad ones, just like Jack does.

I find this concept important to remember when doling out praise and criticism and when balancing my gratitude against my complaints. The negative is heavier than the positive, so it's important to make sure it all balances out by doing more good than bad, being more grateful than dissasatisfied, and offering more accolades than corrections. As the saying goes, one "Oh, shit" trumps a hundred attaboys. Sad, but true.

So we need to take our cue from Jack Tanner and keep trudging the road of good deeds and positive thinking and acting against the inevitable time in the future (or perhaps as compensation for less-than-stellar past performances) when we don't hit the mark of right action. Which happens. Sometimes more than others.  

Doing the right thing is always the right thing. Especially in light of the fact that no one always does the right thing. Which makes doing the right thing the right thing to do to balance out the times when we stray and do the wrong thing.  Because you know it’s going to happen.  Today, tomorrow, or the next, we will fall, because that is what humans do.  It’s our nature.  Hopefully, we won’t kill anyone.  But there are lots of ways to transgress, and most of us will explore a wide variety of those activities.

So, let’s all pay it forward and perform as many good deeds and random acts of kindness as we can.  Let’s tip the scales in our favor, and enjoy the pleasure of doing well by doing good. Just like Jack.