Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice posted a thought provoking piece about collateral consequences of the laws we enforce as a society.
All of us, myself included, talk about the law in a theoretical sense, disconnected from a hard recognition of the human consequences. No doubt there are people who can explain, inch by inch, line by line, how and why everything that happened here was grounded in good intentions, for the purpose of protecting people from harm. We know that harm is caused in the process, but we shrug it off as collateral damage in the war on crime. We are willing to suffer the damage to some in the name of protecting others. We know that some innocent people will be caught in the process, but we close our eyes and argue that it can’t be helped. It’s just the price we pay.
And in a separate piece entitled Judging Others, Scott rants about the “coddled class” which he describes as:
They grow up in lives of relative comfort and great expectations. They do well in school, come home to meals cooked by their mother and advice dispensed by a father wearing a cardigan, and attend the university where they read great literature and obtuse philosophers. Not too many know what it’s like to go to bed hungry… The coddled class judges society’s rejects.
We all of the coddled class. Defense lawyers, at least, have the opportunity to learn about a sphere of humanity that never had a chance to enjoy the wonderful opportunities we did, but that only helps if the lawyer has the metacognitive skills to see their relationship to others. Most see nothing but themselves.
How easy is it for us to become immune to the life surrounding us. The lives surrounding us. Whether we are judges, attorneys, probation officers, cops, accountants, mothers, or fathers; how often do we see the relationships around us as an intricate web of diversity and possibility. Do you take the time and invest the energy to communicate with life around you or are you immune to it?
When was the last time you spent any time walking in someone else’s shoes? Have you considered, even for an instant, that the person before you could easily have been you had a different choice been made? What difference might be made if some small effort were made to connect on a human level? What are the possibilities if you sought first to understand before judging?
There is value in relationships and we humans are all social creatures.
The truth is that many don’t have lives that resemble our own experiences in any way. We could parse it and point to bad choices, often by parents, cops, teachers and others who could have helped but instead became a guide down the road to perdition. But every junkie, mugger and dealer has a tale of his own. It’s just not our tale. We have done so much better with our lives that we believe ourselves entitled to judge them. We did right. They did wrong. We win.
There are many people out there who have led lives of deprivation and misery. Many have made some very poor choices, taking an ugly existence and making it worse. Some are poorly educated. Some are dumb as dirt. Some are sociopathic and some are malevolent. Some are just sad and pathetic.
The coddled class judges them all harshly. They are unsalvageable, or if they can be saved, it’s just not worth the effort or the risk that some of their stench will rub off on us. The coddled class looks in the mirror every day, making sure their hair looks attractive, before they pretend to help those less fortunate. It’s not that they don’t mean well, but that they share no understanding of the life of those they judge.
We build walls to keep us safe from the unknown and the unpredictable. To some walls we add cement and barbed wire. We enact laws, with little thought of the consequences, to fortify those walls and isolate us from those who are different. Those with different life experiences and those with different beliefs. Every day we go to war to protect these walls.
We become blind to the damage our actions cause in the world we are immune to the rich relationships surrounding us at any given moment. Loneliness, isolation, and despair are the rewards for “winning” and the solitary confinement that comes from building our own personal prisons.
What if the “coddled class” has it wrong? What if they are the underprivileged? What if they are the ones who are missing out on opportunities to experience life?
Alternatively, what if we are all the same and when we allow our humanity to embrace the different experiences available to us then we become whole?
I ask you, what makes a life worth saving? And who gets to be the judge?