Sunday, December 17, 2017


A couple days ago, I made the following post to Facebook:

I wanted to keep it concise and reasonably clear, suitable for the level of attention that I tend to give to Facebook posts, so I elected not to go as deep as I could.  Then, a good friend commented to me on precisely the part of what I wrote that didn't feel completely true to me.  I decided it was worth revisiting that part in a longer post on here, if only to create a bit more completeness for myself.

It's this sentence: "Our society will always include both perpetrators and victims, and both of them are irrevocably connected to the fabric of our society, connected to each of us in the web that includes their families, friends, communities."

To me, it expresses only an aspect of the wider Truth.  Not only does our society contains both perpetrators and victims, but each of us is both perpetrator and victim.  This isn't such a popular view, since it's in conflict with a lot of people's self concept, but to me, it just seems like the undeniable reality.

From situation to situation, relationship to relationship, and one period of time in our life to the next, these lines are constantly shifting in all the conflicts of our lives.  We all lash out or withhold in a great variety of ways.  We can feel that it's the pressures of a work environment, rushing to get somewhere, systemic limitations, or a harm that's been done to us that caused whatever actions or inactions led us to take on a perpetrator role, but still, it happens.

The truth of how we're all not so different really hit me back when I was a public defender.  I used to write sentencing letters to a judge prior to one of our client's being sentenced, and I would have our clients tell me their life story so I could sift through for useful tidbits that would help me humanize this client in front the judge deciding his or her fate. 

Without fail, I was always deeply moved by the hardships these people endured, by the circumstances they faced that I couldn't imagine having to face.  And several times, I was faced with the realization that I probably would have committed the crime they had committed if I had lived their life.  If I had the same hardships, the same lack of emotional and financial support, the same pressure on my shoulders, and the same lack of opportunity, my ambitious, get-it-done attitude would've likely found that same pathway appealing to reach my goals and solve my problems. 

The real difference between me as the lawyer and them as a criminal defendant had more to do with the very different circumstances of our lives, things completely beyond our control.  There wasn't an intrinsic difference in who we were as people.  We were both just doing our best, within the life we were given.

And from those reflections and looking at my own experiences, I've come to feel that the lines between perpetrator and victim aren't solid; they are fluid lines, constantly moving both within us and within our society.  I've come to believe that to heal abusive and oppressive patterns showing up in our society, the most useful frontier on which to work is the one within ourselves. 

As we find compassion for the perpetrator within and bring that compassion to the people who perpetrate in our world, we can stop manifesting a world that reflects the illusion that we're so separate, that we're so different, that there are two factions of good and evil that need to keep fighting.  Instead, we can build bridges of understanding and feed our energy into a world that reflects our unified nature, a more peaceful world.

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