the devil’s advocate

Whenever I write, I play devil’s advocate. Writing makes me think. Hard. I say this, I think. But what if it comes out like this? What if I were approaching this from this?

Will Smith’s message about fault and responsibility is true. But what if, through no fault of our own, we are rendered incapable of dealing with the trauma we’ve been dealt?

It happens all the time. Take the THIRTEEN kids of the couple who were arrested for torture and child endangerment in Perris, California recently, for example. The children were chained to their beds, not allowed to use the restroom, starved, filthy. Authorities were finally notified when a 17-year-old escaped and called 9-1-1 for help. Thanks to malnourishment, she appeared about ten.

Now . . . How this could have gone on for 29 YEARS (the kids are ages 2 to 29) without someone noticing is beyond the scope of this post. (In truth, it appears many are at fault.) Instead, my question is, if we are to take Smith’s “fault vs. responsibility” concept at face value: How are these malnourished, psychologically-abused individuals supposed to take responsibility for turning their lives around? It took 17 years just for one of them to figure out how get away. Can they be held to the same standards as Joe Schmoe down the street?

Now, this is an extreme example. I wasn’t planning to go so extreme. In truth, I was planning to share a personal story related to self-esteem. I’ve hinted in years past at internal battles I’ve had with my appearance and feeling like I’m not “good enough.” It’s taken several years of counseling to understand where my emphasis on appearance came from and how this has translated into the way I treat myself. Yes, I’m “owning” my issues — recognizing the role others and (impossible) societal standards have played, but not blaming them for my struggle — but it’s taken me a LONG time, and I couldn’t have done it on my own.

And I guess my point is, before we judge others, we need to walk a mile (or twenty) in their shoes. And before we worry about others, we need to worry about ourselves. Sure, at some point, some people cross a line. There is NO excuse for certain behaviors (more on that soon), but even so, people’s lives are rarely improved by critical barbs or blame. Instead, they’re changed by compassion. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the video below. How many times have you walked past a homeless person and wondered, How did they get there?

I know I have.

9 thoughts

  1. The Will Smith video was very powerful, especially the second part about guilt.
    Taking the other side of a situation and looking through the implications and ramifications is important to developing well-roundedness and in my opinion, a sound way in most situations to avoid reactive thinking which gets so many people in trouble when they shoot their mouths off too quickly hoping for a smart line or a quick put down.

    • Yes, amen. We’d all do well to listen more and react less; to think things through before speaking or judging. Also, if you’re only able to argue something from one side, your argument is probably pretty weak! Thanks for the comment! :)

  2. Agree with you when you say we should try putting ourselves in another’s shoes. Different person, different problems. If not, different person, same problems, different perspectives and ways of coping. Putting blame on others and being judgemental usually adds to the circle of torment going on inside one’s mind – it gives rise to the idea that someone is better than you, when actual fact all of us are individuals with our own problems. For a long time, I also thought I wasn’t good enough and have had battles with appearance – which I can’t change. I’m actually trying to write about it right now as a chapter in my book. Book writing is going so slow :)

    • Your whole comment is spot on, Mabel. You’re right that judging others only adds to the circle of torment. The whole world would be better off if we all worried more about our own problems and less about others’.

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