The damage done by Bad Apples

I’m interrupting my usual Friday adventure with Rays of Hope because bad apples keep invading my thoughts. Please indulge me as rant a bit.

Too often we excuse a systemic problem with “He’s just a Bad Apple.” Perhaps it makes us feel better. Identifying and punishing one ne’er-do-well can be mistaken for solving the problem.

Just one police officer murdering a black man; just one mogul trafficking underage girls, just one priest abusing children. We apprehended the Bad Apple. Nothing to see here. Let’s move on.

Every time I hear the excuse, “He was a Bad Apple,” I cringe a little. Why?

Because the rest of the idiom gets left out.

One Bad Apple spoils the barrel.

If you’ve ever had a literal bad apple in a barrel (or a bag) you know what that means. You probably know the remedy, too.

A Bad Apple infects the neighboring apples. If you want to stop the rot, the Bad Apple must be removed. But, that’s not enough. All the apple in the barrel need inspecting and cleaning. Some rot will be visible and can be removed, but spores of infection are hidden, waiting for a chance to grow. The barrel must be scrubbed, disinfected, or even replaced. Otherwise, the rot starts up all over again.

Bad Apples are just a symptom of things gone wrong. It’s not enough to remove and punish that one priest, that single mogul, that Bad Apple police officer. We must be willing to look at the whole, root out the problem, address the underlying cause, and fix what’s wrong before the next Bad Apple alerts us that our actions were not enough. Again.

It takes time to peel back the layers. It takes a lot of effort to fix the systems and prevent the rot from starting again.

Don’t even get me started on the term Lone Wolf. Doesn’t that conjure up an image of solitary independence? Real lone wolves are driven from the pack because of age, or a single female leaves the pack to build a pack of her own. Very few lone wolves remain alone for long because they are ineffective hunters and can’t survive without a pack.

So what labels could we use to replace Lone Wolf and Bad Apple? Perhaps Rabid Dog or Canker Omen. Or maybe we should stick with perpetrators, guilty, or criminal.

(Next week I’ll be back with Rays of Hope. I’m anxious to see if her birds survive this time. Are you?)