So You’re Not Voldemort. So What?

Fiction has created some great characters as the embodiment of pure evil. Voldemort in the Harry Potter series, Sauron in Lord of the Rings, Evil (by definition) in Time Bandits, and perhaps the Baron Harkonnen in Dune are good examples. Real life rarely creates such clear examples of evil, although Adolf Hitler may be the exception to that rule. For the most part, however, this level of evil exists only in fiction. And yet, people seem to cling to it as proof that they are “good.” Even worse, they demand the happy endings they see in fiction.

Why do I say this? Because I see it frequently in my law practice. All of my clients are “good” people, in that they aren’t malicious. They are  honest, hard-working folk who hold some sort of professional license and have made mistakes. The nurse who, during a hectic shift, makes a medication error but the patient, fortunately, isn’t harmed. The pharmacist who, in the stressful mail-order prescription world, repeatedly mis-counts pills. The doctor who signs drug order forms completed by her staff without recognizing they are incorrect. These are mistakes and they happen. But about a third of my clients have difficulty accepting that they must endure consequences for their actions. They tell me that others have done worse, or that they didn’t intend to do anything wrong. And because of this, they firmly believe nothing should happen to them. Essentially, they are saying they aren’t evil, so there should be no consequences. But that isn’t how things work – in the real world or fiction.

Consider Paul Atreides in Dune. He single-mindedly seeks revenge on his enemies for his father’s death, but at what cost? For him, the price is paid with the murder of his infant son, and perhaps, with his own sanity. Or think of Harry Potter. His relentless pursuit of Voldemort, disregarding the sage advice of those around him, costs his godfather his life. The protagonists in these novels are far from perfect, and their flaws and mistakes, no matter how well-intentioned, have serious consequences.

So that there is no misunderstanding, I am not saying that anyone who makes mistakes is “bad” or “evil” or even “unworthy.” Rather, I believe everyone makes mistakes and that many, or even most, should be given a second chance. But having a second chance is not the same as wiping the slate clean. Actions, whether intended or not, have consequences, and trust takes effort to restore. The consequences cannot be avoided.

In other words, you don’t get a free pass in life, simply because you aren’t Voldemort.



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