It isn’t that America lacks good men. It’s that our current culture does not know how to recognize them. Over the past week I have received several emails from Chris Benoit fans angrily defending the wrestler turned murderer. They all say the same thing – Yeah, he killed his wife and child, but Chris Benoit was a good man. They offer evidence to support their claim: “I met him once and he gave me his autograph.” “He was always smiling,” says another.
Many people do not understand the difference between polite and good. Mass murderer Jeffrey Dhamer was always described as polite, but that does not make him a good man. There is more to being a good man than knowing how to nod and smile. A good man does not take lives; a good man saves lives.
Liviu Lebrescu was such a man. He was a Romanian holocaust survivor who went on to become a highly honored professor. Normally he taught college students aeronautical engineering, but on April 16th of this year, he taught us all how a good man should react to terrorism. As the Virginia Tech killer approached Liviu Lebrescu’s classroom in Norris Hall, the professor blocked the doorway with his own body while his students climbed out the windows. He laid down his life so that others might live. Liviu Lebrescu was a good man.
Most good men will never step into the worldwide spotlight as Liviu Lebrescu did with that split-second decision. Most good men are good simply because they do what is right day after day. They change diapers, check homework, and help strangers stranded on the highway. They work to support their children, whether they live together or not. They pay their taxes and their bills. They thank the drive-through attendant. They leave good tips. They treat women with respect. A good man does these things even when no one is watching.
Chris Benoit enjoyed the spotlight. In the ring or in front of a cheering crowd, he wore his assumed persona. He was, after all, an actor. In the world of wrestling, he played “the good guy.” To those of us who are not avid wrestling fans, a “good guy” wrestler is a bit of a contradiction. How can anyone who engages in the sadistic, gratuitous violence showcased by modern wrestling be considered “good”? In the ring, he pretended to hurt people. At home, he really did hurt people. He hurt the very people he was supposed to love and protect. Finally, he killed them.
A man demonstrates his true character in private – away from TV cameras and cheering fans, or (in the case of more ordinary men) away from church friends and work colleagues. At home, a man shows who he really is. A good man is honest. A good man is gentle with women and children. He is responsible. He can be trusted.
My grandfather was such a man. Even if you knew Herchel Babb, you probably did not know about his military service before reading it in the obituary last week. He served in the Asiatic-Pacific theatre in WWII. Papaw rarely mentioned his service, and he certainly did not expect others to praise him for it or to give him special privileges or accolades. He never seemed to feel that civilians owed him something. He served not for personal glory, but because it was the right thing to do.
Papaw understood that a person can honor the troops and the veterans even when they do not agree with the President or the war. In fact, Papaw did not always agree with the Commander in Chief he served. He lamented the loss of life in Hiroshima, and speculated that the Allies would have been victorious soon enough without the devastation of the atom bombs.
My grandfather also felt uneasy about the bombing of Baghdad. He could say so without any sense of disloyalty, because he understood the difference between politics and patriotism. Today that line has been obscured. War hawks preach that anyone who opposes the war is a coward or a terrorist, and that you cannot be a good American without being a Republican. Anyone who disagrees with the status quo is branded as a traitor. We have forgotten what the founding fathers understood so well: Open dissent is only possible in a free country, and a free country is only possible where open dissent is allowed to flourish.
Papaw never preached a sermon – but perhaps his life was a sermon in itself. He loved his wife and delighted in his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He spent his youth scrimping and saving while he built a business with his brother Jack. As their sons grew up, they were welcomed into the business. Illness forced Papaw to retire before I joined the family business, but he was thrilled to see the younger generation coming in. That was always his desire. He wasn’t building a fortune for himself; he was building a legacy for future generations. Proverbs 13:22 says, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.” On June 30th, we held my grandfather’s hands as his breath came slower and slower, till his body at last lay still. The world lost a good man.
Ultimately, we look to Jesus Christ as the perfect example of a good man. Like the other good men I’ve mentioned, Jesus was strong but gentle. He could not tolerate injustice. Jesus courageously challenged the leaders of his day. He used his great power to help the young, the weak and the sick – not to force his will on others.
Jesus did not seek accolades, even though no one deserved them more. Although he was Lord of Lord and King of Kings, Jesus knelt on the dirty floor to wash his disciples’ feet. He did not miss a beat when he came to the feet of Judas, who he knew would betray him that very night. He loved and he served, knowing that in the end the task before him would cost him his very life.
Yet even Jesus, for all his goodness, shied away from being called good. “Who are you calling good?” he asked. “Only God is good.” Perhaps you know a man like this. I’ve got one at my house. All the Christian marriage books say that men want praise. Wives are instructed to compliment and openly admire them. But I found that when I put that advice into action, my good man cringed. He said that he was only human, and did not want to be put on a pedestal.
A good man is humble. He does not demand that others honor him for doing what is right. He doesn’t do it for glory. He does it because that’s just who he is.
-- Jeannie Babb Taylor