Wisdom comes from experience. Experience comes from a lack of wisdom.

I did a lot of stupid, okay really REALLY stupid things in college. I was immature, insensitive, arrogant, condescending, egotistical, a hormonal bag of lust and certainly there are things that I think about and shudder with the memory of. I think most of us who lived through their teens and 20s have things they would prefer to never speak of, or see the light of day again.

The person I was 30 years ago, is not the man I am today. How many of us are? And what does it say about a person if they haven’t changed in 30 years?

Those freewheeling college days of beer and cigarettes were a blast. I have many fond memories of them. I also have moments of sheer humiliation, embarrassment and flat out mortification. That’s what our 20’s are supposed to be on some level. We’re supposed to be individuating from our families, trying new things, exploring our likes and dislikes. We’re supposed to make a lot of stupid mistakes to learn from.

So the current Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia is caught up in a scandal that is trying to paint him as a vile racist because a couple decades ago, he did something profoundly stupid. Or not. He can’t recall now if the picture on his yearbook page are him or not, because the people shown are in either in full blackface or a kkk hood.

I’m not a person of color, so I’m treading as lightly as I possibly can while trying to explore a tough topic. The history of blackface and the KKK is well known and certainly has been hurtful over the past couple of centuries or so. As a form of ‘entertainment’ blackface has been out of favor since around the 40’s.

As an attempt at humor blackface doesn’t just fall flat, it’s acutely unfunny in today’s environment of equality. What I’m curious about is, how should we judge art, actions and events? Through what lens should we evaluate or more properly, re-evaluate, the past?

Yes the governor did a stupid thing – blackface or a kkk hood in college is inane. Was it behind a drunken party? Probably. And there in lies a factor that I think is important. The picture was not taken at a Klan rally, or one of those terroristic events they held on a regular basis. The context of this picture is of stupid college kids, being drunk and/or stupid in what appears to be a college dormitory.

I think context matters when we are judging someone or something. There are few absolutes in this world and when we try to impose them we get into trouble.

Should we judge the governor? Yes. How so? He’s handled this stupidly. He should have come out and said, “Yup, I was 20 and drunk and did a stupid thing that I would not do today. I did not know better, but today I do. That does not reflect the person I am or the values I hold.” He’d have been lambasted for a day or two, and people would move on. Instead he waffled, and backtracked, and in doing so, is proving himself a public relations buffoon.

But what does this have to do with Santa Monica? Well it’s the environment we live in. People are judged now by the most exacting of standards. Our past mistakes are judged by today’s standards and that prevents us from sincere consideration, and leads to the goal of who can get to the outrage fastest.

I don’t think it is helpful to solving problems or handling complex emotional topics like race, sexuality or gender.

There are many times as a gay man that someone says or does something that is hurtful but unintended. I have found that it does not serve me to go into outrage mode, I am better served and so are they, when I explain and explore why something is hurtful or inconsiderate. When I can explain to them the hurt, the history and how it impacts me, most of the time, I receive a sincere apology and a changed set of behaviors.

The current controversy will likely end badly for the governor of Virginia (and things aren’t looking too good for his African American Lt. Governor who has now been accused of sexual assault!) but hopefully it will be a teaching moment for that state, as I hope it is for our city.

We are all Americans and we need to remember that first. One of the things that made the Greatest Generation was their pulling together in times of strife. Yes we had race problems then as well, far worse than today, but we were still Americans pulling together to stop injustice.

Hopefully we’ll get back to that soon.

David Pisarra is a Los Angeles Divorce and Child Custody Lawyer specializing in Father’s and Men’s Rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist.  He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at dpisarra@pisarra.com or 310/664-9969.You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra

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