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Sociopaths on Parade


The other night during the news there was an announcement for a rerun of the interview done with the Madoff family. I looked at my husband, the question in my face.

“I don’t know,” he said.

“They interviewed the Madoff family???” I asked anyway. Sometimes you can’t help these things. It’s like an emotional Tourette’s.

In any case, I came to learn that recently there was a flurry of media activity related to the release of two new books by Madoff family members.

ABC aired the first Madoff family member interview on October 21, when Mack, the widow of Bernie’s son, Mark, appeared on 20/20. The show scored its best ratings since February 2010, with 7.6 million viewers overall. Surely not coincidentally, The End of Normal, published by Blue Rider Press and another book, Truth and Consequences: Life Inside the Madoff Family, hit bookstores in October.

Now, while it delivered wonderfully high ratings for the media, it did little to inspire book sales.

I’m not surprised by the fact that fewer than expected sales were reported. Who wants to give the Madoffs any more money than they already stole?

But I am—though I shouldn’t be—surprised by the fact that ABC and CBS both took a huge amount of time (and money) with these moguls of misfortune, these scoundrels who are now bleating poverty and victimization.

Why is anyone listening to them?

Why is anyone paying them a dime for their opinions when they haven’t paid a dime in compensation to their victims?

Worse, yet, why are we watching them? Not just once, but in reruns.

It seemed to me to be a form of bizarre cultural rubbernecking, not much different than what we do with car wrecks; a minor fender bender off to the side of the road can cause a ten-mile back up on a major freeway even though all the lanes are actually open. The jam is only because we slow down to look: Is there any blood? Any bodies? Despite all the anatomically correct horror shows on TV (CSI, Bones, Criminal Minds), we can’t seem to get enough of it. We want to see all the bad and awful things that people do.

This is even more pointedly true with famous people. There’s nothing the media or the media generation likes more than watching the crash and burn of a wealthy celebrity. Hence the inordinate amount of attention given to the slow, sublimating near-death experience of one Charlie Sheen. He even had live video to capture his expected demise from alcohol, drugs, and sex addiction and to disperse his rants about being dumped from Two and a Half Men all over cyber-land.

And, as far as I could tell, everyone was watching. It was amazing, but they were watching themselves watch him. And the media talked about it as if it were as important as the impending collapses in Greece and Europe, the epidemics and violence in Africa, or the economic issues in this country. If we measured importance in terms of airplay, I think Charlie won.

What does that say about us?

I am loath to consider the implications.

Because, in my experience, what we look at tends to reflect what we are. What we choose to do tends to be an expression of who we are.

Which says we, like Sheen, are on a slippery slope towards self-indulgent suicide. We, like the cyber-voyeurs who wait for the shape-shifting demise, are caught up in our own “near-life” experience. We, like the Madoffs, are prone to expect something extraordinary for nothing. We too are entitled. We too want our 15 minutes of fame, sometimes at the expense of our good names, even our souls. It may be more a matter of degree than essence.

Not because I am immune to any of the above or because I don’t sneak a peak at traffic accidents, but because I had a momentary lapse of sanity, I turned the TV off and left the Madoffs to their new book-sale travails and to their lonesomes. In fact, the more lonesome the better.


Letters on forgiveness

My dear friend, Lucy, has been corresponding with me on the nature of forgiveness. One might reasonably ask what there is to talk about. You either forgive someone or don’t. You either get forgiven or you don’t.

And that is true on the most concrete level. But there are other levels, ones which we have been debating for a couple of weeks, now. What is forgiveness? What does it depend on? What impact does it have on Justice and vice versa? And what about Truth?  How does that affect both the nature of forgiveness and our ability to extend or receive it?

She has said that forgiveness is a phenomenon that by definition must be relegated to the personal. I have implied that it may be offered on a larger scale, e.g., nation to nation. Thus far, we have agreed to disagree.

Recently she sent me this excerpt from an article by Father Schall:

“But it all depends on the willingness of the one who caused the injustices to repent and ask forgiveness. This is the divine limit. God cannot create man free and then take it away and leave the same being in existence. If this forgiveness is not in some way asked, even God can do nothing but pursue justice…”

So, I wrote back explaining my sense that there is a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation although the latter cannot happen without the former. In order to reconcile with another person, or nation-to-nation, there must be a formal humbling, a repentance, a request for forgiveness. This is basic common sense. You can’t reconcile with someone who’s still intent upon harming you. And you can’t “make nice” (diplomatic reconciliation) with a nation-state whose mission it is to annhilate your nation-state.

However…forgiveness is another matter. It does not need the reconciliation to take place. Forgiveness, as I have come to define it (mostly by virtue of my work with victims of trauma) is a letting go, a release of hatred, resentment, hurt, and rage. And it can occur without any hope of reconciliation with the perpetrator. Indeed, where there is recovery (of any kind–abuse, alcoholism, abandonment, etc…), there is forgiveness. I told her that we can exact justice (as opposed to revenge) or set limits or hold people accountable for their behavior and still forgive them.

In fact, if we are to remain sane and attempt to grow in some relationship with God, it is absolutely necessary.

She is absolutely right when she says that someone who is to be forgiven must ask for forgiveness and mean it sincerely. Recently Michael Vick, the sociopath who beat and brutalized and killed puppies for entertainment and money, had  a press conference and publicly “apologized.” He smiled and glittered throughout the entire scandalous waste of our time. He adored the attention, delighted in every camera turned his way. The reporter interviewing him at some time during the mini-documentary nodded his head with a solemnity that was either pure show or pure stupidity. I’ve been a psychotherapist for more than twenty years and I’ve learned to read faces fairly well. There was no doubt that the man neither wanted forgiveness nor felt in any way repentant. There was no doubt that he merited serious consequences for his behavior. (Far more, in my opinion, than he got.) And there was no doubt that justic was poorly served. Can we be reconciled with a man like that? No. Is he trustworthy? No. Would I leave a full-grown dog in his presence, no less a puppy? Never. Ultimately, should I forgive him even if he never asks for it and never deserves it?

I think so.


Because it heals us. Because it keeps us  just and prevents us from taking out our rage on someone like him and calling it “justice” instead of the vengeance that it really is. Because it brings us just one step closer to what God has called us to do, to love more like Him.

I have a hard time with it, especially with sociopaths like Vick. I’d like to see people like that shipped off to the farthest asteroid and left there. But I also know that wishing him ejected into the vacuum of space is a dark part of me speaking, clammoring for some way to let off steam and pain. It never helps. It doesn’t bring back anything or anyone that was lost and chips away at our own souls in a way so subtle we don’t recognize the damage until it is too late.

I want to state clearly that I am not a pascifist. I wish I were that evolved, but truly I love being alive and I would be willing to fight to stay that way. And God help the brute who tried to hurt my dogs. I know I would be hard to restrain. I believe strongly, though, that forgiveness does not necessitate the laying down of arms or the passive submission to a bully.

What it might mean, what I hope it means, is that we can be pure of heart even when we do what is necessary in this world. And if that means removing an imminent threat so lives are saved, so be it.