Keeping a Safe Distance

There are times that I tell stories generally of the human condition that I observe through the practice of law. Those stories tend to initiate from the raw and difficult, if not tragic, lives of people I meet through the criminal justice system. They are often in a tailspin and their stories paint the picture of destruction which began in their lives years or generations previously.

I’ve noticed that when these stories are discussed, the depth of pain and tragedy is lost. The fullness of the hurt and desperation put on display in the lives of people is lost to an insulation we tend to put between “us” and “them.” The details of lives in disarray caught in the middle of a plan set for their destruction are softened by judgment or by disregard at least to some degree.

This happens in groups where the insulation is based in some level of judgment that comes from a lack of connection because life circumstances are just so different from those engaged in the legal system. This also happens individually, and I am not immune, from a self-protection to avoid getting too engaged in the crap that others are living in.

We filter the view of the youthful criminal, the middle-aged addict or the homeless “crazy” with a lens that keeps us in a superior position and far from empathy. We may flirt with sympathy on occasion if there are enough tragic details of lives gone wrong to justify compassion but generally hesitate to connect emotionally at all. We process their circumstances mentally and resolve our perspective with sterile conclusions based in comparison.

When we do wander into the lives of those that apparently struggle more than we do, it is dirty and burdensome. There is a great weight of darkness in the environment which can begin to uncomfortably press down on us so we tend to avoid getting too far in. When we keep our distance, however, we miss the opportunity.

We miss the chance to bring Light into the darkness when we think that the darkness isn’t part of Light’s intentions. We miss the chance to experience and carry Hope in a way that increases our hope. We miss the chance to truly experience Life when we limit our living to safe and comfortable, justifying our distance by comparing the evidence of darkness against a law we can’t keep ourselves.

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