Past Pain is not an Excuse for Your Actions (feat. Joss Whedon)

I couldn’t get all the way through the new Joss Whedon interview in the Vulture.

The final straw?

“Instead, [Whedon] quickly added that he had felt he “had” to sleep with them, that he was “powerless” to resist. I laughed. “I’m not actually joking,” he said.”

Yeah, no.

I’ve had times where I was around women I was attracted to – women who weren’t interested in me in that way – and realized I was starting to flirt a little too hard. You know what I did? I told them that I was probably going to start really hitting on them soon, but I didn’t think they wanted me to, so unless I was wrong, that we should call it a night. And then we called it a night. I’ve shared a bed with women I was attracted to but who weren’t interested in me. You know what I did? I went to sleep. I’ve had a woman tell me and another guy “I’m drunk enough that I just want to **** someone to feel alive, either of you up for it?”. The other guy and I argued a bit – not about who the lucky guy was, but how we were going to best be able to get her home safely and not having done something she’d regret when sober.

I’m using those examples not to make me look good. I’m saying that what Joss claims he “had” to do is objectively not the case. I didn’t even have to think hard in those situations.

Again, I’m not holding myself up as a paragon of goodness here. I am not trying to say that I am perfect. Have I screwed up? Yes, I’m human. Have I made bad decisions? Yes, I’m human. Have I unintentionally made people uncomfortable? Yes. Have I hurt people when I made bad decisions? Yes, to my shame.

Have I also – whenever possible – apologized, made amends, and then behaved differently? Yes.

Which brings me to the straw before that one, much earlier in the article.

“Whedon now has a term for the damage his childhood caused. He says he suffers from complex post-traumatic-stress disorder, a condition that can lead to relationship problems, self-destructive behavior, and addictions of various kinds.”

No. No, no, no, no, no.

I’m not complaining about what he went through. Pain is not a competition.

This evokes the “Is it awkward or ass****?” test:

If they admit responsibility for what they’ve done, and work to not do it again, it was probably awkwardness. If not, they’re probably an ass****…It’s a fine distinction between providing an explanation for a behavior and offering an excuse for a behavior. “I didn’t realize how it made you feel” could be either; it’s when one adds “that was a horrible thing for me to do” before and/or afterward that it stops being an excuse.  It’s the taking responsibility that’s the important part.

My offense at Joss’ using past pain to justify his behavior goes deeper than that, though.

If you’re going to claim a disorder or disease as to why you’ve behaved badly, that does not erase what you did. Once you are made aware of your problematic behavior, doing the work to find out why you behaved badly explains your behavior. Knowing the motivation can make it, perhaps, somewhat more understandable. But that explanation does not mean you get to keep doing the same bad behavior.

That explanation does not excuse your bad behavior.

Instead, it creates an obligation. An obligation to do everything you’re able [1] so that you stop screwing up, change your behavior, and make amends to the extent that you are able.

It is very possible – even probable – that the damage will have already been done. That you will have damaged your current relationships beyond repair. That things will not be able to be un-pooched.

But nobody gets carte blanche to use their past pain as a get out of jail free card.

No matter how good the dialogue is in your scripts.

Featured Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

[1] To those who have been battling a disorder and had little luck, to those who have had family and friends heap “why don’t you just change your behavior?” on you as if you didn’t already know: I am not talking to or about you. For starters, you don’t have a mansion or have the resources to just decide to check yourself into inpatient care for a month-long stay.