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Stop even the littlest rogues
On Poor Richard, Maya Angelou, and the need for social antibodies to stop liars and troublemakers before they go far
Few writers of the Revolutionary War era seem quite as consistently fresh and relevant as Benjamin Franklin. This probably owes to his interest in observing human nature and recording his observations in pithy turns of phrase. Instead of grasping for too detailed an assessment of whatever aroused his attention, he managed to break many of his conclusions down to words that make a great deal of sense untethered to any place or time.
■ Take, for example, his observation from 1754: "Little rogues easily become great ones." It isn't hard to think of more than a few "great rogues" in our world today. And it also isn't hard to think of ways in which they demonstrated who they really were long before becoming great menaces to others.
■ The same lesson is exactly at the root of Maya Angelou's "When people show you who they are, believe them." Imagine how often it causes distress, whether in private life or in public, for the people around a "little rogue" to aid and abet them by tolerating their bad behavior.
■ Of course, people can change. They can make choices to reform and redeem themselves, and people of goodwill ought to tolerate real changes of heart. But a healthy civilization has to learn how to enforce that kind of correction by making real outcasts of the chronic rogues who burn every partner in sight or use lies and deceit to climb to power.
■ If some social antibodies aren't brought forth to repel the infection, it is all too likely to metastasize. No matter how charming they are, or how much it appears we can gain by going along with them, ultimately the pain will be suffered by those who tolerated the rogue's behavior instead of boxing it out and bringing it to a halt.