Both negative and positive experiences shape a person to be who he or she is. However, the impacts of these two experiences are debated. Some people would argue that negative experiences have a harmful effect on how individuals become better people in life. They may become jaded and forfeit their right to optimism.
However, negative experiences actually have a more positive impact than positive experiences on how people become better because those experiences can be reflected upon and one can learn and change to develop and argue for morally right positions, such as fighting for the right to proper education, freedom to participate in group activities regardless of the person, and protection from corrupt, evil humans. Denial of an education due to social norms allows one to develop a position of fighting for the right to an education.
This makes that individual a more morally sound person because he or she is arguing for a just cause. In “Women” by Alice Walker, the narrator demonstrates how her mother’s generation fervently fought to make education available for future women and girls despite the women’s lack of an education themselves (Walker 193). This lack of education may have been negative for the mother’s generation, but it led to a more promising future for the ensuing generation.
Assuming that the setting for this poem is America because Alice Walker was an American writer, Walker emphasizes this preceding point by showing that women gained their rights to a formal education during the 19th to 20th century, despite the paternalistic society in which women were allowed no education. In fact, women were discouraged from partaking in higher education and jobs and encouraged to stay in the proverbial house.
However, the narrator describes the negative experiences of the struggles faced and the steps taken by the women to gain that education, which implies that these women became martyrs for womanhood. That negative experience strengthened these individuals and brought about change, which would lead to other better people by inspiring women to maintain and fight for their beliefs and to create change in the form of their contributions to society such as improving women’s wages to match those of men with the same jobs. Along the same lines, the narrator, a slave or former slave, in Learning to Read” by Frances E.
W. Harper fought for an education so that she could learn to read the Bible: but when [she] began to learn it, Folks just shook their heads, and said there is no use trying (Harper 198). Because she was too old and slaves were expected to not learn to read since that knowledge may make them “worse” slaves, the narrator experienced negativity from the discouragement of those around her. However, the narrator stayed strong and ignored social expectations that slaves should not learn to read: So [she] got a pair of glasses, And straight to work [she] went,
And never stopped till [she] could read The hymns and Testament (Harper 198). As a result, she became a better person by fighting for what she believed was right and not accepting what people expected of her to do, even with the negative experiences of being put down by those around her; those experiences gave her the motivation to read the Bible. This negativity strengthened the narrator’s willpower and shaped her to become one who does not give up, which is seen when the narrator does not stop until she is able to finally read.
Without those negative experiences and her illpower, the narrator may have never become strong enough to develop her position and fight for her right to read the Bible; she may have given up in her attempt to read the Bible. Much like these narrators, one can see that Frederick Douglass’ Narrative demonstrated the same change through education. In the story, Douglass attempted to learn the English language, ignoring what his slave owners prohibited. By doing so, Douglass faced the harsh realities of his situation and gained an understanding of his situation as a slave in Southern society through his new knowledge.
However, this negative experience and loss of hope in his life would strengthen and change him to become a better individual who became an abolitionist fighting to abolish slavery. In addition, he became one who could endure the harsh treatment from his slave owners because of his strong will that resulted from his negative experiences. This allowed him to become an inspiration to other slaves and an overall better person who fought for a morally right cause.
In addition, the negative experience of just observing an event can cause one to attempt to emulate that same action to argue or a person’s freedom to participate in any group activity. This is seen in “Learning the Game” by Francisco Jimenez when in the beginning the narrator fought to allow Manuelito, a young boy, play the game kick-the-can because he was usually prohibited by Carlos, a forceful character, from playing due to Manuelito’s physical slowness. However, the narrator observed Gabriel, a man working to feed his family, physically resist Mr. Diaz, the contractor, after Gabriel argued that he was “not an animal. “.
Due to this negative experience, the narrator took a stronger tance on the issue of Maneulito and rebelled against Carlos by refusing to play if Manuelito would not play, which would eventually lead to Carlos allowing Maneulito to participate in the game (Jimenez 183, 186, 187, 188). The negative event the narrator observed urged him to fight against Carlos in order to act morally right: allowing Manuelito, despite his limited physical capabilities, to participate in the game.
Thus, the narrator changed from being a good person to a better person throughout the course of the story by taking a stronger stance against Carlos who he believed was wrong. Without this impact left by his negative experience, the narrator may have never committed such a bold act of arguing with Carlos, a boy much larger than him. The narrator would have remained as a much more passive individual who could not argue for what he believed was right.
Protecting innocent people from corrupt, evil humans indeed characterizes a good person, but morally transforming one’s character permanently makes that person border on sainthood. This can be seen in “Letter from a Freedman to His Old Master” in which Jourdon Anderson, a former slave, asked his previous aster if there would be “any safety for [his] Milly and Jane” and if there would be “any schools opened for the colored children in [the master’s] neighborhood” because Jourdon’s desire is to give his “children an education, and have them form virtuous habits” (Anderson 196).
Even though Jourdon stated that he would work for his old master again if there was payment for his job and his previous work, he prioritizes the safety of his children after apparently experiencing something negative involving Matilda and Catherine. Because of this and his experience as a former slave, Jourdon became a better person n that he is fighting for the protection of his family, a person who has learned to improve his character from negative times.
He does not want his own children to experience the same violent abuse for serving whites in the South, so Jourdon negotiates with his former master in hopes of guaranteeing their safety, while working under him. If he does not, it is implied that Jourdon would reject the master’s offer without any more thought. This demonstrates how Jourdon acts morally right due to the impact of his negative experiences.
Rather than going on to become a worse person, Jourdon becomes better one who ights for what he believes is morally right after reflecting upon his time as a slave, shaping who he is and strengthening him to become an individual fighting for his children’s safety. At first glance, negative experiences having a positive effect on an individual may seem counterintuitive.
However, they do have positive effects greater than those of positive experiences because one can assess and learn from them to form a morally right position. These negative experiences usually stand out in one’s memory, resulting in a larger impact on that individual. Thus, one can become a better person through those negative experiences.