Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sympathy for the Devils


First and foremost, I have to admit, part of the reason why I gave this post its title is because I wanted to listen to the song while I wrote.
What prompted this was actually a talk I had with my friend, Sondra, not long after I started writing professionally. 
 
Pictured here, helping me be a prodigy.
Sondra, like a few of my college friends, is very politically active. She’s helped run campaigns for almost as long as I’ve known her.
And Sondra, like most college kids involved in politics, is very idealistic.
 IDEALISM...and a disembodied arm.
I don’t consider myself the idealistic sort, especially when it comes to politics. As such, we used to get into it a little.
If you saw “The Ides of March,” the conversation between Marisa Tomei and Ryan Gosling could have been Sondra and I. I swear George Clooney was hiding in some bushes behind me with a tape recorder. 
 I'm sure this is what I would have seen if I'd just thought to turn around. From The Descendents
 Some of the things Tomei said to Gosling are except copies of what I’ve said to Sondra and vice versa.
Basically, one of the big things that I realized and Sondra was horrified by was my sympathy (or empathy? I just don’t have the time to figure out which) for the criminals I encounter and write about on this job.
I told her that I think I understand why some criminals do the things they do, that, though I can’t excuse their actions, I see their reasoning sometimes.
At the same time, I have zero sympathy (empathy? I DON’T KNOW) for politicians caught in the same ethical quandaries, the people she might have to  fall on a sword for someday.
She couldn’t understand what I meant and I barely even understand it either.
One of the reasons why I began to write, why I like writing, is because I’m fascinated by people.
If you’re fascinated by people, you’re fascinated by human nature: what motivates people, what moves them, what makes them happy, what scares them, what lines they will or won’t cross, why people do what they do.
I like to think that in anything I write (or at least 75-80 percent of it), I try to consider all of that.
As such, I think I’ve gained that weird understanding of criminals.
It doesn’t extend to everyone. Sexual crimes, spousal abuse, all of that, there isn’t anything to sympathize with. I’ve always been hardened to those types of incidents, like everyone.
But the criminals that are very obviously in business for themselves or, at most, their families, are understandable to me. There’s an element of survival to what they’re doing. Maybe it's the Dillinger aspect.
In every case, there are a couple of questions, and obvious answers, that could apply to the people I write about that stand charged or are found guilty.
1.Where they right to do what they did??
No.
2.Did they need to do what they did?
No.
But the biggest thing that factors into my thoughts about them is this: do they absolutely know that “no” is the answer to those questions?
That’s perhaps where I gain my slight understanding.
Another of the reporters in this office doesn’t necessarily share my feelings on this. 
A lot of her feelings tend to  mirror this guy's, actually.
Most long-time reporters don't share my feelings, I think. When you’ve dealt with the same sorts of cases for years and years, I’m sure you become pretty hardened to such considerations.
But in my short time as a reporter I’ve also discovered something else. Everyone has the ability to do the wrong thing, even terrible things. I don’t think anyone is exempt. That’s human nature, as well.
I’m there, too. There are things I’m not terribly proud of.
 Apparently, the Yakuza don't like it when you skim a little off the top as a "service fee."
For that reason, I think any one of us could give the wrong answer to questions one and two from above.
Now, as I feel those things, I feel nothing for many politicians.
It goes well beyond me why they do what they do. Manipulation, jealousy, lies, blatant ignorance, those things seem to course through a more than a few of those elected into public office.
For a time, I covered one small-time governing body where every meeting rotated from one extreme to the other almost without end: passive aggression and screaming matches.It really involved one four or five people there, but it poisoned the entire atmosphere.
Whatever set those people pretended to serve, senior citizens, homeowners, students, low-income families, the rich, they did them all a constant disservice through their pettiness.
When I think of why I can stomach criminals infinitely better than such politicians, the only thing that comes to mind is, “They should know better.”
Maybe I’m the one with the idealist tendencies, not Sondra. Generally, I think the idea is that elected officials should work to make things better for the public as a whole.
The political spectrum I have witnessed involves in-fighting over special interests, the near-constant effort to say the thing that sounds good but means nothing, and, most of all, an inflated sense of self that repeatedly impedes any progress.
There are some people out there fighting the good fight. I’ve run into those types of politicians in my travels. But “some” doesn’t cut it for me.
It’s very likely that what I understand a politician’s job to be is not the way it works or ever can work.
But it seems sad that I can relate better to the guy that got caught selling heroin than a handful of the politicians I’ve encountered.
That said, no one gets a pulled punch. I'm not in the business of giving anyone a free ride.
But these are things I definitely I think about every day.

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