08/23/2012 05:11 pm ET Updated Oct 23, 2012

Good and Bad

Dear Waldo,

My husband and I have had a running argument throughout our lives together about a particular issue. We both have embarrassingly high paying jobs, and so we've made a rather substantial bet with each other about who is right and who is wrong. We've polled many, many of our friends, but the results have been inconclusive and unsatisfying, and so we've agreed to consult you as the final arbiter. Whatever you say goes. The issue is this: I contend that people are basically good. My husband contends that people are basically bad. Who wins?

With Fingers Crossed,

Emma Dingman

Dear Emma,

Ohh boy. I'm afraid I'm going to add to the confusion. My brother and I have a close childhood friend who, after more than four years, is finally climbing out of the deep dark hole made by a heartbreaking divorce. Our friend is a big, sweet, furry fellow, and you have to make room for his laugh, and to emphasize a point he might bang his meaty fist on the table. But when he talks about mistakes he's made or his kids it's a soft and different thing.

Last week, clueless about dating after 24 years of marriage, he came by my brother's house so that we could help him get ready for a blind date my brother had arranged for him. Our friend who is a very good athlete told us that when he used to get ready for a big game in high school he got the same feeling in his stomach that he was getting now. Then he went back out to his car, returned with a change of clothes on a hanger, and he disappeared into the bathroom to take a shower.

Through the bathroom door my brother and his wife and my wife and I talked to our friend as he showered. We discussed with him the benefits of shampoo and conditioner. We discussed deodorants. And then the four of us went back to the kitchen to wait for our friend to present himself.

Soon he arrived at the table. He had combed his wet hair, and he was in his new clothes, and this fifty-five year old man, father of four, stood before us like a hopeful schoolboy. He let us walk around him and around him. He let us sniff him. He let us make small adjustments to his hair. He let us straighten his collar. When we wondered about his sweater, he took it off, and once again we walked around him and around him, picking at this, adjusting that. And then he put on his reading glasses to examine the little map we had drawn for him to find the house in which his blind date lived, and our childhood friend walked out the door and off he went, with all of us waving good luck from the driveway. My brother and his wife and my wife and I returned to the kitchen table and sat, happy and sad, as if our son had just left for the prom.

On the drive home my wife and I listened to a story on the radio about child prostitution in America. Children were being bought and sold for the purposes of sex, and not just a few. Thousands and thousands. A 13-year-old told her story that began when she was four. Highway rest stops, the story reported, were a popular site for the exchange of children and money.

And so, Emma, I'm sorry that I will be of no use in settling your bet with your husband. Because the answer to your question depends entirely upon where you choose to look, and how you interpret what you see.

Here's the best idea I can come up with: Choose to look somewhere bad, and then send the wager money in a direction that might make bad less bad.

Your Fan,

Waldo Mellon