Defusing with truth

May 4, 2006 at 10:18 am Leave a comment

A little scenario that went through my mind yesterday…What if I were sitting somewhere, say alone in a bus station, and a man who looked to be a panhandler asked for money, then, when I said no, threatened to take it from me anyway? Instead of showing fear, or even anger, what if I then said to him, “So, what you’re saying is, you were going to take my money all along? You aren’t a beggar, you’re really a thief, then. Not a very nice thing to be.”

And what if this unexpected reaction from his “victim” made him sit back for a minute and think? True, he could respond with anger and lash out with violence. But I had to wonder if maybe the act of naming his actions as thievery might give him pause, enough that he might think, “Hey, it isn’t nice to be a thief, and I like to think or at least pretend that I’m a nice person, so maybe I shouldn’t take this woman’s money.” I just wonder if this approach might work more often than one would suspect nowadays, even given the violence that seems so widespread. And maybe the power of simple honesty, plus the fact of connection on a human level (even through disapproval), could cause a shift in the atmosphere.

Here’s another deeper thought – what if the thief is really something of a child still, and feels an odd comfort at the reproach, and a certain affection for the person delivering it? Like having a wise old grandma who sets reasonable boundaries and standards of moral behavior for her grandkids. Psychology seems to be telling us nowadays that children do better in structured environments with gradual increases in freedom as they show they can be trusted with it. Does this mean that criminals are generally operating at a child’s level? “I want something, and I’ll have it, even if it means being a bully to get it”?

And what does this say about people who aren’t bullies? Who don’t need or want or appreciate others setting boundaries for them? Again, is it a question of intelligence? Does intelligence mean that one accepts the need for responsibility, and is willing to accept it as the price of freedom? And what about people who don’t care to do the boundary-setting for others, either?

It occurs to me that the man would be much more likely to show this sort of docility if he’s not armed and neither am I. If he were a bureaucrat, though, I’d have to catch him alone without his goons at his elbow to enforce his every word, before he’d even hear one of mine.

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“wholly sundered from the obscene and baleful…” “Opting out en masse”

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