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Bad Apple, Bad Saying

“One bad apple ruins the barrel.” That’s how I learned it. Language shift being a real thing, now people say things like, “You don’t throw out the whole barrel if you find one bad apple.”

This has been getting under my skin in the worst way for a long time, because that is REALLY bad advice. The more I think about it, the worse it bugs me.

The absurdity of it gets obvious if you apply the same advice to any other kind of fruit. Like, oh, berries. Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries — take your pick.

When I buy a little container of berries, I check it over closely, because, you know, fruits do go bad, and there are a lot of little fruits in the package. If everything in the container looks good, it comes home with me & goes in the fridge.

Then Life Happens & I forget the fruit is there for a day or five. (HI, ADHD) Eventually I always I rediscover the container and think, “Oo, fresh berries, yum!” It will come as no surprise that some of the berries are no longer Good Berries by then. One or more always gets fuzzy w/mold & mushily overripe, even though they all looked great when I got them.

Do I throw out the whole container because there’s a fuzzy berry? Hell, no. Fresh berries are expensive, plus my taste buds at that point is now primed for some delicious tart-sweet goodness. But I’m not about to remove the obviously fuzzy berry and uncritically dig into the rest, either. That path leads to a mouthful of bitter, disgusting goop.

Bad apple, bad berries. Yuck either way.

Salvaging a container of berries after one’s gone off is a tricky salvage operation involving close inspection and deep cleaning. Rot spreads from points of contact, and it’s often not obvious until I look close. Sometimes I have to discard fruit two or three degrees of separation from the Bad Berry before I can be sure what I put in my mouth will be wholesome under the surface.

(Why yes, this is a post about law enforcement & politics & media. Sorta. It’s definitely an IMHO rantlet.)

Anyway, every time someone in a position of authority misbehaves, out come the assurances that the criminal/bigoted/unfit person was an exception, that the organization or system which produced the problem is perfectly healthy since one specific Bad Berry has been identified and removed.

Only that isn’t how it works at all.

Makes me wonder if the pundits who like to toss around those “It’s only one bad apple” dismissals have ever eaten fresh fruit in their lives.

Or if maybe, just maybe, they’re giving bad advice on purpose because they’re Bad Berries themselves.

Food for thought, maybe.


By K. M. Herkes

Author, gardener, and cat wrangler.