Monday, May 11, 2009

Do Not Slander Another's Well-Earned Fame

I have a friend who was having some difficulties at one point in time with her husband, now her ex-husband. He was an artist, and he painted a picture of her on canvas, and she found it and showed it to me. It was one of the ugliest pictures I had ever seen! It was clearly a picture of her face, her form, but he had made it so dark, and so ugly, and brutal-looking, even evil that it was very, very clear what picture he had been carrying of her inside of him.

This is merely an external representation of what we all do. We all paint pictures of each other. The question is, with what fidelity to we paint the picture of others? Do we feedback to others a genuine image of how they are and the reality of their deeds in the world, or do we feed back an ugliness that we add on to things, a distortion that comes from some sense of inadequacy within ourselves?

Here we come to the core of the issue about the tort of slander. Law at its base has to do with protecting people from injury. When you feed back to a person an ugly image that doesn't match their true self and their real deeds, you are doing an injury to them, most especially if you take this picture that you've painted of them, and you share it with others, and it begins to effect how they treat that person.

Now this doesn't mean that we're required to paint a rosy picture of everyone just to be nice. Their picture should be true to their deeds. Sometimes people have engaged in some ugly deeds, and the picture of them that is painted is going to reflect that. A genuine reflection of a person's deeds and therefore their character leaves some room for honest disagreement and even critical debate, but when there is a complete distortion between the nature of a person's actions in the world -- how they treat other people -- and the picture that someone or some group of people paint of that person, then something damaging is happening. An injury has been committed, a dishonoring that needs to be addressed.

All this, of course, with an understanding for a little bit of the rough and tumble nature of life. Sometimes we can get so self-involved and so oblivious to the effects that our actions are having on others, that we need a dose of cold water, and that never feels good to the ego. But when we have made an effort to stay in touch with our community, and to be true, and to be the best that we can be, and ill pictures are painted of us, often times this is more a reflection on the painter than on the depicted.

Sometimes it is indeed the very best who are subjected to this ill-willed distortion, and it comes from envy, others' envy of people's success and nobility, and wanting to drag them down rather than lift themselves up. This, of course, has been around ever since Heid spread envy amongst us.

There's a lesson here. Do not injure another person's well-earned fame. There is a place for healthy critique, but be fair in the way that you depict another. Strive to be fair, and imagine how you would feel in their shoes, and see how comfortably those shoes fit.


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