Hollywood created dramatic characters that defined the “Old West” and they were easily identified by the color of their hats. The good guys wore white hats, were loners, were generally better looking and almost always “got the girl” in the end. The bad guys wore dark hats, were financially well off and were surrounded by large groups of other bad guys wearing “bad guy” hats. They were almost always holding “the girl” captive under some real or imagined threat or debt. The good guy almost always had some sort of former association with the bad guy – be it a former friendship or working relationship – and their falling out was often over a disagreement about money or a desire to hold the heart of a woman. Sometimes both.
The bad guys routinely misused their social status or financial power to achieve political or societal strongholds and they had often come from bad guy “stock” whereas the good guys often had little family ties and very little financial wealth. A good horse and warm pallet in a barn to lay their head in seemed to be all the good guy needed to get by until he was overcome with the desire to achieve more – usually brought on by some real injustice brought on by the guy in the dark hat – or until he simply wanted “the girl”. Maybe not for himself – but because she was in distress. And that subject is a whole other book!
In the early days of western movies it was easy to identify the bad guy. It was easy to understand why he was bad and it was easy to feel real hate for all that he stood for. As time went on the plots became more complicated and the lines became more blurred. This may have been art imitating life – or the reverse, but we would find that the bad guys started developing an excuse for being bad and the good guys started turning up with a bad guy past that they couldn’t shake.
This over-simplification of good versus evil made it easy for us to delineate between the good and bad actions that define the roles in our community leaders and those that would seek to lead. Just as a badge or a black robe or a clerical collar identifies in individual as a Law Enforcement Officer, a Judge or a Clergyman, we often immediately associate that person with a “good guy” status. Of course we know that all Police Officers, Judges and Priests are not always so good – in fact there is demonstrable proof that some are the embodiment of evil – we are conditioned to associate the appearance with the nature of the individual. The terrain becomes less apparent when we are trying to define the Politician or the Business Man or the Community Organizer. While most of these characters take their role seriously and with integrity, we also know that all Police Officers, Judges and Clergymen are not always so good – in fact there is demonstrable proof that many are the embodiment of evil – but we are conditioned to associate the “uniform” appearance with the nature of the individual. As the uniform takes on less of an official appearance, the ability to delineate the integrity of the individual wearing the suit or the contents of the briefcase. The business card they produce tells only a small part of the story Many Politicians are well meaning and simply become swept away in the process or the lack of their ability to make progress. Many business men and women have great ideas but lack the follow through to reach their goals. Many Community Organizers become frustrated that others don’t share their goals and become competitive and dismissive. It eventually becomes clear that the good guys aren’t always so good and the bad guys aren’t always so bad.
Sometimes the good guys don’t even know when they’ve gone bad and the bad guys don’t know when they’ve been rehabilitated enough to carry the good guy torch.
So, in this age of convoluted agendas, how do we reconcile our approach to the idealistic desire to better our world? How are we able to trust the White Hats when we aren’t sure from where or by what method they got their White Hat?
Oprah Winfrey once said that integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is looking. This might very well be the best way to measure the value of a White Hat but this method carries a risk of trusting them too early. White Hat wearers that don’t really honor the principles of the White Hat are not very likely to expose their quest for power or control until it’s too late and one has put their trust – and all that goes with it – in their hands. And sometimes – even if there was the possibility that the White Hat might not be the real thing – they have been given the benefit of the doubt and not questioned further about their motives. This leaves them to wreak havoc down the proverbial road – often irreparable damage is done and the fallout of their actions can be felt for years to come.
I have come to decide that it is up to each individual to give the gift of the White Hat to one who has earned it. Trust is earned and not given away freely to anyone who asks. The only person who can decide if another can be trusted is the one who is giving the trust and the real power actually lies in the decision to take away trust that is violated.
So consider this as notice to White Hat wearers everywhere…you were given this honor as a gift but it can be taken away if you do not respect its value. In fact, Hollywood has perpetuated the ideal that the guy we thought was bad often dies horribly at the end of the movie. Sometimes he is sickened with regret of his misspent life and dies gasping apologies and sometimes he is blown to bits, never imagining his demise would come to such a brutal end. Almost always Hollywood is masterful in leaving the good guy in charge and he forever changes the lives of all he touches.
And they all lived happily ever after.
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