What Does a Bad Person Look Like?

You, like all of us, probably have a certain picture in mind — and yet, actually, there are no rules. Criminals can be pretty, and every dictator still has a mother. Oscar Pistorius is a Paralympics sprinting legend. He also shot his girlfriend dead. Did he do it on purpose? We might never know, but it’s important we allow ourselves to ask the question.

Jeremy Meeks is a committed felon who was convicted of gang violence and grand theft. He’s also rather good-looking. His mugshot went viral, and he emerged from prison with a million Instagram followers and a professional modeling contract. Can a person redeem themselves? Of course. But are fame and money the first two things we should hand someone who clearly has a lot to make up for? Another question worth asking.

When the author who made him famous, Ariadne Oliver, is the first to appear at yet another murder scene demanding Hercule Poirot’s legendary detective-skills, she finds herself at the end of the master’s piercing gaze. “Don’t you dare look at me like a murder suspect,” she says. “We’re old friends.” Rational as ever, Poirot only knows one response: “Every murderer is somebody’s old friend.”

Sometimes, things are exactly as they seem at first glance, and sometimes, they are so far from anything you could even have imagined, you’ll find it hard to blame yourself for misjudging them. The important part is to not give too much importance to the seeming. Let “seem” seem as it may. Watch, wait, and place a question in the middle of the room. You might have to stew in it for an hour or for a year, but eventually, the truth will emerge.

Appearances aren’t always deceiving, but don’t take everything your eyes — or any other sense, for that matter — transmit at face value. Not all gangsters have scars, and not all homeless people are alcoholics.