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The Wisdom of This Young Addict Will Surprise You

Dec 17, 2017


We knocked on the front door and the director happily waved us all in.

Our group of younger and middle-aged men and women had arrived on behalf of the Manitoba Real Estate Association (MREA) Shelter Foundation to deliver a grant check. (Yes, my younger colleagues, if you're in your thirties, I'm lumping you into the 'middle-aged' category. Deal with it.)

One of several Winnipeg facilities we would visit with check in hand, this was a second-stage housing facility for women affected by addiction and at times domestic violence. After a quick tour, we were guided into the dining area where staff and residents served coffee and tea and gave us a presentation on their history and impact of their important work.

Then one of their guests rose to say words I'll never forget.

“I was 22 when I realized I had an alcohol addiction.” she said it without shame, clearly talking about her dark past from a place of some healing and resolution.

At that time though, she'd thought she could deal with the addiction on her own. Over the following 4 years she had tried all kinds of ways to manage it, attempting to overcome it unsuccessfully. Finally, after spending some time in a local rehab facility and arriving at the shelter, she’s turning her life around. She had broken free of addiction. Her years were few, but the lifetimes she'd lived in that time seemed to steep her words and fill her eyes with wisdom beyond her time.

I listened as she spoke to a roomful of us, awed by her strength. Then she said something I hope I never forget. 

She addressed recent news stories about police officers having been caught driving under the influence, but had a unique perspective. The media had been blaring with stories and updates about the officers. Their blood-alcohol level. Whether there is a “binge drinking culture” among police. Questioning transparency of the department. It seemed every fact was up for auction, and every question – even blatant ones to stir up doubt – seemed fair game. Whatever gets readership, I guess. 

However normal and acceptable it seems to most of us, she had a different view. She viewed the news stories not as helpful public awareness campaigns, but as a public flogging of sorts. "Public shaming [of the officers] is not helpful," she said, "If my name and my family's name was in the paper, it would have been damaging to my recovery." Then she turned it around even more.

"We should remember they have a problem," she added, "and public shaming doesn't help solve it."
It took conscious effort not to let my jaw hang open. I had never thought of the whole story from the perspective of the officers. I had never imagined a situation where someone might have an addiction that they might feel afraid every day that this is the day it gets found out or hurts someone.
Yes, as a citizen, it’s disturbing that police who are sworn to protect us are committing these acts. But I was challenged by this young woman's reminder that they’re human, too. We all have issues. Imagine your private fails being broadcast across the news. The way you overeat, or yell at your kids. The way you cheat on your taxes or the time you drove away from the grocery store without paying for that bag of chips. Maybe you lost your temper and hit someone or damaged their possessions on purpose in retaliation. We've all done stuff and been some version of gross at one time or another.
Imagine that suddenly that secret moment you'd rather forget is now broadcast far and wide, and everyone with fingers and a keypad chose to voice their judgment of you.

It's a horrifying thought.
It's also a good reminder to climb down off of our soap boxes, put away our pointing fingers, and remember we all fail. We all do wrong - intentionally, and accidentally. 
I'm not saying that there shouldn't be penalty – that we should just pat people on the head and send them on their way. Obviously. As onlookers though, we need to remember that a little empathy and understanding can go a longer way to solving those issues than public shaming ever will.

What do you think?
Are news pieces public shaming pieces? Do they serve any positive purpose or just deflect us from thinking of our own troubles?

Category: Philanthropy

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