Holding my phone, looking out at Lake Michigan, I understood with sudden clarity that doing the right thing- being right- gets you nothing in this world. It’s the sinners everyone loves: the flailers, the scramblers, the bumblers. There was nothing sexy about getting it right the first time. Jennifer Egan The Candy House

I’ve been thinking about this since I read the book…

Do we idolize sinners?

Do we love to glorify the people who do bad, as opposed to those who do good?

On job interviews, do we ask when was the biggest screw-up, and how did you overcome that?

Do we think that people who never screw up don’t take enough risk, and therefore don’t deserve our time?

I admit, this quote made me STOP when I read the book: I reread the quote at least three times. In a world where I have tried to teach my daughter that she should do the “right” thing, have I been steering her wrong this entire time? While I’ve given her the latitude to make mistakes, and gave her tiny pushes outside her comfort zone…I’ve tried to make sure she followed the path that was lined with good intentions…that she was a “good” person, not quite a “sinner”…

Was I wrong?

Do we really admire those who don’t follow the “rules”?

So what do you think about the quote, about “sinners”, about anything I touched on:

Discuss:

120 thoughts on “Sinners?

  1. You have brought your daughter up to be a good person, but not necessarily successful. I realised this with my kids – you teach them to be considerate and you find that they are constantly elbowed to one side by greedy, grasping, entitled brats. So do you do the right thing, or do you bow to the pressure of modern life?

    You know what I think about modern life.

    Meanwhile, is it really saints and sinners or is it more subtle – risk takers v safe people, thinkers v followers? It’s possible to step outside the norms without being a sinner. But as I asked in a comment on my blog – how many great writers did their best work on lettuce? Booze, drugs and moral decay are much more interesting. 😉

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    1. I wonder if I’d be a better writer if I indulged In things other than cheeseburgers. Does anyone really want to read what travels through my head that I think is interesting, but really…

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  2. No. Doing the right thing is right . Making mistakes is human but we shouldn’t glorify it. Human nature glorifies the wrong things. It’s easy to screw up . Not so easy to get it right . We all like overcomer stories because they finally succeeded.

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      1. I think we like it when people are honest about their failures. Everyone makes mistakes and sometimes they make big ones. So when they tell the story we can relate.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Girl you got me thinking 😁. So I think we are suspicious and judgmental of overly perfect people. We don’t like it and we think they’re either lying or hiding some deep dark secrets. It’s human to compare ourselves to others. It’s a virtue to NOT do that. So what’s right and good is not necessarily what is common.

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      3. That’s just it…if you are a parent and say that your kid never cut class, do people roll their eyes at you? My daughter was not a drinker in high school. We were at a dinner and mentioned that our daughter was at our house with friends, and someone asked if we’d locked the liquor cabinet. We said we didn’t feel the need. We were called naive, and pretty much told our daughter was a loser if she didn’t try to sneak alcohol (not those words but intimated)

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    1. I think you’re making two separate points:
      1) We, humans, do seem to relish in the “bad”, the news are filled with bad news rather than with good news, most likely because that’s what people want.
      2) There’s something to be said about celebrating making mistakes. There’s a fantastic Einstein quote “The only sure way to avoid making mistakes is to have no new ideas.” I think so many people are afraid of making mistakes that they don’t try something new, and are stuck with the old, and sometimes the not-so-great. Maybe we do need to sometimes, in a balanced way, encourage making mistakes. Not sins 😛

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      1. I’m fine with mistakes. But it’s people then bend/break the line that get to me. I see people jumping over turnstiles every day while I pay. They’re seen as a modern day Robin Hood with screw the system, and I’m seen as a sap…

        Liked by 2 people

      2. That’s a different take on it. And it’s another interesting point: we live in a community or society that is better when we all improve it. Why do some decide that they’re “outside” it?

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  3. It seems so much more shades of gray instead of bright lines black and white. Is it really only sinners or saints? Or is it degrees of either, or both?
    That said, being a ‘good person’ is an invaluable skill set, though quite possibly not successful based on certain standards. If ‘sinners’ don’t give a f**k about how they get where they’re going they may be successful, but what about their moral fiber, right?
    I look at my grown girls, I see how hard they’ve worked to get to this place in their lives, I know they struggled, but I also know they lived (mostly) by a code of integrity and respect. Perhaps they would be in different places had they not, but they wouldn’t be who they are.
    ‘Sinners’ may get the glory, but I’d rather be surrounded by ‘good people’, thanks.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I agree with you. However…as Q said…arent many artists sinners, and make their work more provocative? Do we secretly loathe the person who doesn’t screw up?

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      1. Personally ‘secretly loathe’? I’m honestly not sure about that…when I was younger I more than likely passed judgment on someone who was ‘perfect’. You know, someone to whom everything seemed to come so easily, or never seemed to do wrong. But as I’ve gotten older, I think I just care less about that kind of stuff. I don’t use my energy that way as much any more.
        But I understand it in concept. I think ‘society’ encourages, and even conditions us to feel that way.
        This is an interesting topic chock full of differing opinions, and I’m here for it!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Well, personally I tend to be attracted to the freaks, weirdos, and screw-ups. I don’t feel I have much in common with people who seem too “normal” or who have not struggled. But I think that struggle and embracing your sinner or strange side, or whatever you need to embrace just happens with time, you don’t have to force it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m definitely quirky, and I’ve screwed up, however I think there are differences. Do we like those who aren’t “normal” because they are doing what we are perhaps afraid to do?

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      1. Maybe, I certainly think that we admire those who live their truth even if it looks wrong or wierd to others. On the other hand, I as a society we have an attraction for seeing others really messed up in part because it reassures us that we are OK (“at least I’m not as messed up as person X”) and connected with that we can be repulsed by those who are “too good” — think of the goody two-shoes and brown-nosers and the holier-than-thou.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Idolize may be too strong, maybe admire is better. My very first thought reading this post, in light of the fact that Grease is heavy in the news with the death of Olivia Newton-John, was that attraction some have to “the bad boy”. How many of us have that secret need/desire to push a limit, misbehave, set aside the fear and just go for it… and how many actually act upon those desires. Being good all the time can be boring as hell… and sometimes you just need a little nudge 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I related to the example you gave of your daughter earlier. My daughter is an old soul of sorts and has always been extremely trustworthy.
    I think sometimes we get emotionally invested in the sinners—then are more likely to justify everything that the sinner does.
    I used to have this coworker called A. A was very charismatic. For whatever reason our supervisor was always seemed to give A a pass on her bad behaviors. Other coworkers were always frustrated by the fact that A had a different set of rules to follow than the rest of us. A ended up getting fired years later. But I always wondered why our supervisor couldn’t see clearly in this situation.

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    1. It’s things like that that give me pause…when we see someone getting by even though there behavior is questionable. It makes you wonder why we behave the “right” way.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh man I see people at my job all the time spend far more time on their phone than actually working and yet somehow have managed to buck the system.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I don’t think that people really idolize sinners – though some certainly do. But I think it’s the concept of doing what they want, regardless of if it’s right or wrong. No one really notices when you do the right thing, the expected thing. But when something shocks your senses, you pay attention. And you wonder – why was it done? Courage or cowardice? Good or bad? And ultimately, we wonder what we would have done, or felt, in their place. Oh, we might not say “what would I have done” but certainly, we would “I would never do that.” And we might not say the reasons out loud, but they’ll be there, constrictions that doesn’t need to be bad, but layered in one’s morality, religion, ethics and so on.

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  8. My theory is that we use “sinners” as an example for ourselves because our egos tell us we are better than they are. This does not make them morally superior; rather, it brings our moral standing down to a lower level.

    But since most people like drama, “sinners” get more attention than those who do the right thing. Drama always brings a lot of people (gapers delay, etc.).

    Liked by 3 people

  9. You are doing an excellent job with your daughter! She is growing up with morals and just what our world needs more of.
    I do agree that some of the most questionable people will get more fame, popularity and notoriety than others that are living a kept life. For example, that catch m e outside girl is a great example of this, she appeared on the Dr. Phil show because she was skipping school, sexual active with many many men and her mom was fed up. Fast foward to today, she is rich, a rapper, and has a huge following. However we have to dig and search for information on young girls/women that are an asset to our society. The world is screwed up!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Regarding an above commenter talking about those who are normal–or those who have not struggled. I think everyone has their struggles—they are just not always at the surface and may be invisible to others.
    I grew up with a lot of kids who had parents with alcohol problems—my dad struggled with alcohol. However he always did well with his job. My mom used to rationalize his behavior and the behaviors of other parents with alcohol issues as okay–as long as they were leading successful lives. As if the person with alcohol issues was a better person if they made more money than a person who didn’t struggle with alcohol. Of course she had to revise her way of thinking once we found out my sister was an alcoholic.

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  11. Lately it feels like the real world has become a larger version of high school on steroids. What Deb said about Grease…I think that we are always pressured to be a part of “the group” and act like they act and think like they do (for better…but usually for worse. Sandy finally gives in…for love. Probably why I was never part of a group. Interesting question and amazing answers from your audience. I think it’s more about extroverts, though. Read up on them and it explains a lot. Mona

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Oddly, I have just ordered this book from my local library. This is an author that I have never read before and I am so looking forward to reading it even more so now having read the comment. Do we really idolise those who don’t do the right thing? I’m really thinking hard about this and I’m sure that for me those that do the wrong thing Are not my idols. Immediately those who have done the wrong thing and are in the news come to mind. No, they are most definitely not my idols.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have a few more posts about this book coming up. While I didn’t love it, I found it quite thought provoking. Interested in your thoughts when you read it

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  13. I was just thinking about this subject (in a roundabout way) when I read the comments about Olivia Newton-John (a beautiful human and soul); many of the reviews of the actress and her work said she got big when she played the ‘naive do-gooder’ on Grease. Hmmm, I didn’t think her character Sandy(i) was a do-gooder. She was just a nice person who tried to play by the rules. Who dressed demurely because she didn’t have to dress ‘sexy’ to be pretty, who preferred to not speed in cars or talk back to the teacher. Since when is that a ‘do-gooder’? So, similar to your sinner question. Do we prefer a sinner more than a good person? I think not. But then, that’s why I watch little TV, because according to the ratings, everyone wants to cheer on the ‘evil’ character, the one who doles out drugs and shoots their enemies. Sigh.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. As to tv…I don’t like a lot of what counts for popular viewing. I didn’t watch Breaking Bad, I don’t watch Succession…it seems to me that these shows glorify bad to me

      Liked by 4 people

      1. I couldn’t watch breaking bad because the cancer story line was too much of a trigger. Now I have watched shows like the Sopranos and Sons of Anarchy but I never found myself rooting for the evils the characters committed.

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  14. #1. we make excuses for “sinners” – I’ll expand that to people who do bad things – as long as we – the viewer – perceive their sins to be for the good or we agree. Is that an oxymoron or what? This is why I like dogs better than people. #2 I have been asked 2x in interviews how did I fix a screw up I made. Fortunately I have lots of examples.

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  15. There’s a huge different between making a mistake and purposely doing wrong. Sounds like you’ve raised your daughter to know the difference and live life according to it. I don’t necessarily agree with people preferring the sinner (although, I’m inclined to believe it more in today’s society). But I think in most part people appreciate hearing stories of someone who did things right and there’s no scandalous story to go along with it. Or maybe I’m wrong. At least this is how I hope the world works.

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    1. I don’t know how many nice stories people really want…I look at my news feed every day…and it’s the bad that gets highlighted, as if we have a thirst for it

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  16. First… you have to define sinner and in what religion, don’t you?
    Do good to others doesn’t always mean you get that in return (although it should!). Do bad people ever get what is coming to them? I think and hope they do but as I have seen and experienced so pretty horrible stuff and those people were NEVER brought to justice I have to think the author isn’t far off the mark on those who are sinners are the ones who either have the money or lawyers or both to get ahead, while those of us who do good for and to others without expectations are horrified when sinners do bad to good people. Many times the good people pay dearly for years for things and situations that were created by either sinners/social rule breakers.
    The universe I want to live in should be fair and just for all! Why not ask in a job interview what a biggest mistake was and how the other came it? A mistake is not always a rule broken or a sim committed. We all face difficulty and how we manage that journey should and could be a great teaching moment for others!

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    1. I don’t equate sun with religion. I know plenty of atheists who are crappy people…I think of it more as people knowing what they are doing is wrong and they do it anyway. And I get it…the whole why do bad things happen to good people…people taken in by good cons…

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      1. But can we really agree on that? A person who wants to be in a gang might think it’s ok to kill someone as initiation because they’re loyalty belongs to the gang, and they’re trying to protect themselves. Does self preservation count?

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  17. We’re all sinners, some of us are better at it than others, but it does appear we idolize those who are more skilled at it shall we say. And by the way, I think you are doing a splendid job raising your daughter! Carry on…hugs, C

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I think it’s a stupid quote. Yes, stupid! First of all everyone makes mistakes. But purposely doing the wrong thing is just selfish, callous, egocentric and incredibly wrong. I too raised my children to do the right thing. They learned to give back to the community and as adults volunteer and have fed the poor, given their time to work with young people in need of big brothers, and even dressed up as Santa at Holtz children’s hospital for terminally ill little ones. You cannot tell me that my Sons ( two Jewish men) dressed like Santa didn’t bring joy to the families of children who wouldn’t live to see another Christmas. THAT is what is called A “mitzvah”. ( a good deed). My faith tells me it’s an honor to do a good deed for those in need. And now as grown men I am proud of the men they grew up to be. They give back. Doing the right thing IS sexy. Smart is sexy. Sinning is a word that is relative anyway. But to be selfish, hurt others or care only about them selves? Not sexy. Back in the late 60’s long hair and bell bottoms was sexy at a peace rally. I thought John Lennon was sexy. Was he a sinner? Not in my eyes. So I suppose it’s all one’s point of view. I wore a mini skirt as my wedding dress in 1969. My mom called our Rabbi to ask if that was a sin. He laughed because he knew me well and told her not to worry that I couldn’t be a sinner even if I tried. So she felt better about it. Back then I made my dress. It was unconventional. Just how I liked it!
    I did not like that quote. You raised your daughter with wonderful, caring values. Good job!

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  19. I don’t think we in general idolize sinners; I think the media wants us to idolize them and therefore many do. Those followers are not thinking at a very deep level. Please keep teaching your daughter to have values and to stand up for others who do; that is the basis of a civil society.

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    1. True. But sometimes I feel if you do the “right” thing, people think you’re a tool of whatever, and eventually that wears on you. Like the kid who doesn’t do drugs and peer oressure

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  20. I do think we “glorify” sinners, but it doesn’t mean that living righr is wrong. We as a society just like to hear about the bad stuff.
    This goes with your integrity question. Can you really feel good about yourself if you don’t teach your child to do whats right. How to be a kind person. Will it mean that they may get passed over for a promotion, yes, but will they be able to look at themselves in rhe mirror and feel good about themselves, Yes!

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    1. I like your angle about teaching kids what’s right…I see so many parents who “tell” their kids one thing but do another, or gloss over the bad stuff in a “they’re just kids” sort of thing

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      1. Our kids watch our actions more than our words! Words are empty. And that, “they’re just kids” mentality is crazy! Thats why so many get older but never really grow up!

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      2. What about the people who go on about “phases”….pink hair and safety pins in clothes is a phase…shoplifting is a crime

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  21. I believe the “sinners” do get most of the attention in our world, and often a lot of financial reward as well. But I also believe that they often cause suffering on the people around them, and rarely do much good. It’s the people who quietly do the right thing, day after day, using their skills to help others and taking responsibility for themselves, who provide the advances we all enjoy. They are truly the “unsung heroes” and we’d be lost without them.

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  22. As Billy Joel would say, sinners are much more fun….. Interesting question. Culture has always idolized the “bad boys and girls” as more exciting. And, it does seem like those “sinners” are rewarded in our self-idolizing culture. For me, real freedom and enjoying life comes from extending grace, kindness, comfort, support and empathy, while fighting the good fight. We’re all sinners and we all need these gifts extended to us. 💜

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  23. I don’t think we in general idolize sinners; I think the media wants us to idolize them and therefore many do. Those followers are not thinking at a very deep level. Please keep teaching your daughter to have values and to stand up for others who do as that is the basis of a civil society.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. I don’t know that we idolize sinners, but they sure are fun to watch. Every story needs a villain (or an antihero, if you will); it allows us to despise Walter White, for instance, but still secretly hope he finds redemption. Or at least sticks it to the cartel.

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    1. In the case of the anti hero, I guess, if the person is bad but screwing someone who is worse…is it integrity? Which makes me think integrity is situational not universal

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  25. We are born sinners, so to seek justice in this world is not good for any of us. Because we are all full of sins. Justice is there with God. But here I do not seek for perfection, it can only cost me my health. I try to find middle in everything. We are just humans. My humble opinion

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  26. The problem is no one in this world is truly right or good and truly wrong or bad. Even if you seem good from the perspective of a human you are still human, and humans always make a mistake. So, I think the point is clear here we all are sinners whether we do good or wrong but when she said we got nothing in this world by being good, that is a sense of desperation and tiredness. Maybe she was trying to be good with her strength but we know that human is finite we are limitless we can’t do that alone. But I agree with her in a sense of not being afraid to make a mistake because indeed as long as we live we can’t avoid doing mistakes that are part of human growth. So, just because it seems a cool quote doesn’t mean it applies to everyone. Sometimes, it comes from a sense of desperation. I am a daughter of my parents and they want the best for me and encouraged me to do good things, but me, myself also a sinner I’m human so despite how good they treat or educate me I have a capacity factor to do wrong but it doesn’t mean my parent have to encourage me to do wrong, it just happens. I think when it happens is the most important. Are you still love your kids or just think you got nothing by encouraging them to do good and just let them always be wrong?

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  27. Salmon swim upstream to lay their eggs. They do it different from everyone, yes, but they’re not wrong for it. And they’re beautiful, strong fish. Going against the current shows strength, especially when we’re doing what it right. No matter how others are living life.

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  28. I read this when you first published it, but I had to think for a bit. I do think that people tend to like others who have a bit of an edge and are risky. There seems to be an appeal for the rule-breaking kind, but not too much. With that said, there is nothing wrong with how you’ve raised your child 😉

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  29. I think we are all sinners, and seeing someone who seems perfect or at least a good person makes us feel less than. The more good, you are, the more you idolize good. The more you feel like a sinner, the more you idolize sinners because you can relate to them more.

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