Ask Amy: Relative Has Conflicted Compassion

By Amy Dickinson | July 26th, 2021

Can you love without validating?


Man conflicted about whether or not to offer compassion for his gross relative Image

Dear Amy: I have been invited to a family event. One of the other guests, a relative, was recently arrested for possessing child pornography.

I want to make it very clear that, as far as I know, he has not physically abused any children. My wife refuses to attend.

I’ve known this man my entire life. I have always liked him. Naturally, I was shocked, confused and disgusted when I found out the circumstances surrounding his failed suicide attempt.

I am trying to wrap my head around how I can separate my love for a family member when they carry such a horrific history/situation/illness.

I am asking you this question (instead of another family member), because I do not know who in my family knows what.

Of course, I do not think it is my responsibility to share this information with anyone; especially since there won’t be any children attending the affair.

How can I hug him and have a conversation when I am repulsed by what he has done?

And if I can, is that the “right” thing to do?

– Conflicted


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Dear Conflicted: An embrace is not an endorsement.

What I mean is that ideally, you would be able to show compassion and concern toward a fellow human being without affirming his reprehensible actions. This is a heavy lift, because others in your circle are not only judging him, but — depending on your behavior — will also judge you. (Your wife, for instance, might judge you harshly for even being in this man’s presence.)

I think it’s important to remember that even people who have committed horrific acts have innocent family members who are greatly affected and heartbroken.

Your family member might have a mother, siblings, cousins, and others who love him but are now pulled into a dark space because of what he has done.

You being kind toward him might comfort them.

I suggest that you greet him and tell him, “I’ve heard that you are going through a very tough time, and I’m sorry.”

Your further response and relationship will depend — to some extent — on how he reacts to you.


In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2021 by Amy Dickinson

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