Ask Amy: Relative Has Conflicted Compassion
Can you love without validating?
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?
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