Friday, January 29, 2016

Are Evil People Evil?

Most criminals don't see themselves as evildoers.

In response to my Inheritance posting, I got some interesting responses.    One was from a Law Student who said I was "giving bad legal advice."   I am not sure how relating stories about things that happened to friends of mine constituted legal advice.   The only advice I gave was "call a lawyer if this happens to you!"

He also said that none of the scenarios I listed could have happened because they were "against the law" and "unfair".

Oh, boy, what do they teach in law school these days?   Yea, injustice occurs a lot in the world - act shocked.   And oftentimes, the person who can pay more for a lawyer wins, even though they are not in the "right" - at least according to the other side.

Injustice happens.   Rather than act shocked, expect it as part of life, realistically assess what you can do to remedy it - if at all - and them move on.   Sort of sad a Law Student can't figure that out.

And of course, the point of the posting was you should never structure your life so you are relying on an inheritance to survive as it isn't your money until you receive it, and things can change along the way such that you don't inherit.   And if that happens, you are screwed royally.

But it got me to thinking about justice and how different parties to the same dispute may view facts differently.   Stated simply, the guy on the other side of your "injustice" deal doesn't think he is doing anything wrong, but rather, from their point of view, they are the one in the right, and you are wrong.

Very few wrongdoers are like the folks in the movies or on teevee, who sit there, like the Joker or the Riddler on Batman, and rub their hands together in glee as they plot yet another "evil caper."   The world just isn't like that.

Understanding this reality is important, if you are to have realistic expectations of dispute resolution.

For example, taking some of the scenarios in my Inheritance posting, my friend Joe, who was an alcoholic, complained bitterly to everyone how his brother Sam was "stealing" from the estate.   And of course, we all said the same thing to Joe - hire a lawyer.   But Joe didn't have the money, so he just complained all the time.

From Sam's perspective, he was doing nothing wrong and in fact, protecting his brother from his own alcoholism.   If Sam just gave Joe a check for half the estate, he reasoned, Joe would blow it all in short order and be broke within a year.   From Sam's perspective, he is not doing evil, but doing good.

Now, maybe you and I don't see it that way, but Sam does - and most people do convince themselves that whatever it is they are doing is right.   And in fact, we all do this, to some extent.

Similarly, the scenario with Fred and Ethyl (who are both now deceased) is the same way.   Fred thought the was doing Ethyl a "favor" by putting her share of the inheritance in trust, with himself as the trust administrator.   After all, Ethyl had a history of alcohol abuse, mental illness, and the like.   And yea, she was a spendthrift.  Ethyl - and more importantly her husband - didn't see it that way.  And fortunately for them, they got the will revised again, to eliminate Fred's scheme.

And so on down the line.  Susan's husband broke the trust she left to him and stole his children's inheritance.   From his perspective, he "needed" the money more than them, and after all, as Susan's husband, the money was rightfully his - right?

Even the case with Linda and Tiffany has two sides to the story.   Tiffany married Linda's Dad, and as his wife, under the law, she gets just about all of his Estate.   The "blood relatives" show up at the house after the funeral and make noises about Tiffany and her trashy friends.    Well, rightfully, the house is Tiffany's, as are all of her late husband's assets.   So she gets pissed-off and tosses the relatives out - throwing their precious photo albums after them.   From Tiffany's perspective, the "blood relatives" are a bunch of meddlers and snobs who rarely visited her late husband before he died anyway!

Now, of course, this is not to say there is no such thing as right or wrong, or that morality is like quicksand.   And it is not to say that reality is "relative" and depends on the perspective of the viewer.   Rather it is only to point out that perception of reality depends on the viewer - actual reality exists, but it is hard to discern.  And generally, the party that better perceives reality is the one who wins in the end, whether it is court, or just in the general Karma of life.

One problem we see, as lawyers, is that clients come to us and present a biased fact statement, with every argument favoring their side.   However, we know from experience that no case is so one-sided.   There is always a weakness in your case, or "another side to the story" that paints both parties in a bad light - but maybe one moreso than the other.

And I have written about this before.   Whenever I get a client who recites a litany of injustices, but fails to own up to their own malfeasance or to the weaknesses in their own case, I know that the client is trouble.   When I ask pointed questions and they say, "That isn't important! The key thing is...." then I decline representation.  Because there really is no such thing as an "open and shut case" because those cases usually are never brought.

But this goes beyond civil matters and even into criminal ones.   Even hardened criminals rationalize their actions as "right."  After all, when everyone else has money, why shouldn't they have some as well?   And of course, they've nurtured a grudge against society for every perceived and real injustice done to them, so whatever they do in return is rationalized as being what society owes to them.

Even in politics - particularly in politics - we see this as true.   Both sides of any political debate believe themselves to be right.  Neither party really believes they are evildoers who are out to pull the wool over the eyes of America.   Bernie Sanders supporters think that it's OK to take other people's money and then give it to themselves, because well, the system is unfair and income inequality and I have student loans to pay and my iPhone is two generations old, already!

And the same could be said of Republicans, who propose what are often preposterous ideas in the name of "protecting the peepul."

Or take religions.   Is the new Pope good or evil?   He certainly thinks he is helping the world, but while he has made a lot of liberal-sounding noises, when push comes to shove, well, it turns out he goes back to the conservative ways of all the prior Pontiffs.   He doesn't see himself as evil, but if you support birth control or gay rights, you may think of him as thus.

Some of the most evil people in the world today don't see themselves as evildoers, but rather as honoring their religious beliefs, defending their country, their culture, and whatnot - while we are the "Great Satan" (as if there is more than one, I guess).

Maturity is being able to see the other fellow's side to the story, even if you think it is wrong.   And in lawyering, as in any battle, you have to be able to see the other fellow's side if you expect to anticipate his every move.    The worst mistake you can make is to assume the other side knows they are wrong, and will capitulate readily once you point out the error of their ways.

Yes, there is evil in the world.   Sadly, the people practicing it don't see themselves as evil.