It's a phrase tossed out so automatically that it has become cliché. Anyone who understands human nature to even the smallest degree - or who is over the age of ten - knows that no one is perfect. And yet, the dismissive nature of this statement hides an often dangerous aspect of social reality: not being perfect can be a great crime.
This is an age when imperfections destroy people in public as a matter of course, from politicians to stars to anyone accused of a crime. While the character of those who commit crimes is important, and to dismiss their actions as being merely part of the imperfect nature of human existence would be irresponsible and foolish, bringing the past to life while ignoring a present reality can be both callous and destructive.
Take, for example, our current President. I am no ideological or political friend of his, and yet the public ranting against his AWOL while part of the armed services irritates me. It is an occurence 30 years in the past, and while it may speak to his character, it also may not.
Society has a strange inability understand the concept of evolution of character, or advancing beyond one's past mistakes. I find this a very strange phenomenon, considering society is mostly made up of people who do that very thing. We are not machines. We can act outside our programming.
Granted, this evolution is not always the good kind. Some criminals evolve into worse criminals. Some politicians find deceit to be a way of life, and simply become better at it. This makes it all the more important to examine a person's current lifestyle if you are going to pass judgment upon them for past trends (more on why that's important in a moment).
In Kirstin Lobato's trial, the prosecutor launched several scathing character attacks, and even twisted her past traumas into motivation for crimes. Central, of course, was her history of drug use. Nevertheless, the reality at that time conflicted with history, because Kirstin Lobato had begun to try and transform her lifestyle into something healthier. The prosecutor was not ignorant of this fact. He flat out ignored it, repeatedly chalking up any imperfection in his re-creation of the crime to her "three-day metamphetamine binge." His point: her perceptions were skewed, because she was on drugs and had a history of drug use.
This ignores the fact that she was trying to change that. Her reference to being on drugs was from months in the past, when she defended herself against a rapist (not Duran Bailey, the victim of the crime she was convicted for). The prosecutor then went on to ignore the fact that she was not on drugs during the time frame he needed her to be on drugs for the validity of his re-creation. And it's not that he didn't know the truth. This is from the court's minutes May 17th, 2002:
Court stated it will advise the jury state's exhibit # 133 was admitted and that the urine sample was tested for the presence of meth on July 5 and none was found.
I'll "advise" the reader that the state's exhibit is the prosecutor's. They ignored their own evidence of her innocence. Kirstin Lobato was trying change her life, but the very meaning of that endeavor was shut out by the need for a conviction.
So, apart from the obvious injustice here, there is another reason people should care about what is going on: there is little motivation to change your life for the better if that act is rendered meaningless in light of one's own history. I know there is little motivation because I have seen what it does to people, especially young people (Kirstin Lobato was 19 at the time of her trial, 18 at the time she was arrested). I've witnessed people choosing to go out in a blaze of personal glory rather than face those that would condemn them no matter what, and in all my life I have never seen anything so tragic as watching emerging potential be demolished by the prejudices of society. And the despair that results from that does become motivation...but not the motivation to better oneself. There is nothing more dangerous than someone who feels they have nothing to lose.
We should support the attempts of others to become better people, if only so they don't look at their honest attempts and say "the world considers this effort worthless." Kirstin Lobato should have been given acknowledgment for working to overcome her history, especially because she had been successful at it. And it certainly had weight and meaning in this trial, because it was part of the heart of the prosecutor's argument.
Should society just erase the concept that self-improvement has any value? If we do something society disapproves of because of foolishness (or poor judgment, or any of the other fallacies of being human), should we cast aside any future that is not a lonely one, lived in fear of notoriety? Are we, as a society, ready to tell our children that any grevious mistake they make should herald the end of their dreams?
That message has already been sent.