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The last time I spoke for a high school audience, one of the students approached me and requested a moment of my time. “I need your advice on something,” she said. “I need the opinion of a person who doesn’t know me.”

An opinion based on a total lack of knowledge about something is directly down my alley, so...  “Okay!”

“Well, there’s this guy I’ve been kind of seeing, and I need to know if I should break it off.”

“What’s confusing you?”

“I kind of think my parents don’t like him.”

“Oh. Well, a lot of people run into that.  Do you know if there’s anything specific your parents don’t like about him?”

“I’m not sure. Maybe it’s because ever since he went to jail—“

It was at this point I stopped the conversation cold, and asked the young lady to repeat her last sentence out loud to herself.   “Okay, well, it’s not as bad as it sounds,” she said.

“WHEN THE WORLD 'JAIL' IS INVOLVED, IT IS AS BAD AS IT SOUNDS, because unless you're dating Gandhi, this probably isn't a person you should be involved with right now."

"Yeah, I guess so."

"At the very least, it sounds like he needs to figure some stuff out."

"I think he does!"

She thanked me and walked off. And in her footsteps I heard, in my own voice, echoes of the same justifications she’d probably been feeding herself for weeks and weeks: “Why should I join JROTC if it’s really an authoritarian expression of the military-industrial complex like he says it is?” “Oh, who cares if he borrows my car and then abandons it four states away. Our love is stronger than mere steel!” “I trust him, so like he says, I really shouldn’t care if his study partner from his bio class is suddenly on his speed dial and also sending him naked pictures of herself."

She wasn’t really looking for advice from me.  She was looking for permission to listen to herself. Because, for serious... looking for confirmation of boyfriend choices from the scary stranger with the microphone?  What kind of high-grade crack were they brewing up in this place's chem lab?

Probably the same stuff I was breathing the first time I called a phone psychic.  It's called Being Insecure And Under Thirty.

wisdom of the ages at:  mbe@drinktothelasses.com

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Reader Comments (14)

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I've just gotten to the point where I don't even ask other peoples' opinions. Really, I already know what I should do, but I'm still going to do the opposite if I that's what I really want to do. I'm not really fond of "shoulds."

April 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnne from Iowa

It is nice that young people look up for you to give them words of wisdom.

But maybe we should have heard the whole story. Gandhi was NOT the only person in the history of the world to have been incarcerated unjustly.

And even if he was rightly punished, if the system has already decided he has purged his deed, why should we still condemn him? Or are we that aware that the penal system is a charade, and it doesn't help to rehabilitate criminals?

Then why put people behind bars? A bullet in the forehead is cheaper for the taxpayer.

April 9, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterred pill junkie

I kinda think you're missing the point of the post. The girl knew the guy wasn't any good for her. She just wasn't listening to her intuition. Or her PARENTS, who might know a thing or two? Ya think?

In any case... a teenager, and some dude in prison? I think that's pretty much a no-brainer.

April 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCharlotte

I *still* sometimes have to say the conflict out loud or put it in writing to get that lightbulb moment. [::shakes head::]

You did a good deed for a stranger.

April 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterlynD

She probably wanted to hear the opinion of an impartial third party to see if it agreed with that nagging voice in her head telling her to break it off.

April 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCJ

I understand that. and I think the girl did the right thing.

But... it just saddens me how a person who might end up in jail for whatever reason, gets marked up for life by society, you know?

we don't know what the poor bastard did. Maybe it was a stupid prank, like painting a graffiti. But here we are imagining the worse case scenario (drugs, armed robbery, make your pick).

And so a person who gets punished by the inefficient legal system doesn't get the right to have the benefit of the doubt. I think that's kind of wrong.

Think about it: The Christians are remembering right now the time when an innocent man was unjustly trialed and condemned.

Maybe I'm overreacting here... what i do know is that the laws of Man are fallible, and innocent people get their lifes ruined.

April 10, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterred pill junkie

Dude-- come down off the ledge. You're 1) assuming the guy is innocent 2) also assuming that people get locked up for minor offenses like graffiti here in the States 3) which makes it incredibly difficult to compare him to Jesus Christ. It takes A LOT for somebody, particularly a minor, and ESPECIALLY for a first offense in which there is a question of innocence or a "stupid prank," to go to the Big House. (Don't ask me how I know this.) Trust me, if a high school age kid is in jail? You don't want your daughter dating him.

The post is about how we justify things we know are bad for us. This girl needed confirmation of what she already knew. All I did was give her permission to listen to herself.

April 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMB

The way she accepted your advise so quickly strongly indicates she only needed that extra-push to convince her of her own decision. I do not dispute that whatsover.

I will only add this final comment: Here in Mexico, it is a serious offense if a male subway passenger is caught touching or molesting a female passenger. It is considered a sexual assault and that means jail time.

Good thing, right? Well, it's not! Because there are gangs of criminals that are orchestrated to stage a show intended to incriminate an innocent victim, in order to bribe him. Imagine I'm inside a subway wagon, minding my own business, when suddenly a woman next to me starts yelling that I just touched her butt. In no time there will be 4 or 5 witnesses claiming they saw the whole thing, and conveniently enough 2 or 3 security officers will show up right on the spot. After threatening me to put me into custody they propose a way to let things go as if nothing happened: a bribe of say US$100 $200 dollars. If I don't have the money or refuse to pay then they take me in and put me behind bars until my case is heard by a judge; which is something that can take MONTHS, meanwhile I'll be rotting in a horrible tiny prison cell with 5 or 6 more men sharing it, and eventually they'll release me with a simple "Sorry".

Living in Mexico makes you more aware of the inefficiency of the legal system. I know it's not the same in the US, but let's face it: with 1 in every 100 american citizens behind bars, I kind of coubt it has reached perfection.

And that's that. I'll shut up now :)

April 10, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterred pill junkie

Oh, MB! How could you tell her to break up with him?! He might just get religion while he's in prison, completely clean up his act, and vow to spend the rest of his life as a model citizen. People change, ya know...

April 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterj.s.

I have got to be living in some kind of pineapple-upside-down cake world here. See the entire exchange with RPJ above.

April 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMB

Mmm, pineapple upside-down cake . . . *drools*

April 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterINCITEmarsh

Actually, I'm right there with you--I would've told her to ditch the guy also. My comment was horribly sarcastic.

April 15, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterj.s.

OH! Sorry, I didn't catch it. My bad. Although, it did enable me to think about pineapple upside down cake for a few seconds.

April 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMB
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