Opinion

Mine's fine, yours is broken, and I think I know a lot of things I don't

Posted June 21

If you’re the typical American adult, there’s a good chance you’re pretty happy in your own marriage, but you think marriage in general is in real trouble.

If you’re single but involved, you may think your relationship has more promise than your buddy’s.

You’ve likely got the notion that your community and neighborhood are pretty good, but the rest of America is off-the-rails falling apart.

You might think your religion’s doing fine, but others are both wrong and faltering.

And you possibly believe that your teenagers are well-behaved, respectful and on task — totally unlike all those other hooligan teens who make up most of their brain not quite completely formed demographic.

Polls like the American Family Survey that the Deseret News did last year with BYU show that Americans feel pretty good about their own lives, which is a good thing. It’s the same welcome, leaning-toward optimism that lets people adapt to harsh circumstances and find a real silver lining that makes even things that aren’t so good feel like they’re manageable. It’s a trait that contains a dose of hope and resilience and some practicality, too.

It’s when we stop speaking about our own lives that we venture into unknown territory, and it’s there that trouble lies, although that trouble may unfairly afflict others more than it does us. A lot of people think the best of themselves and the worst of others, and it’s not a pretty trait for those people who approach even the things that they cannot and do not know with a brassy assurance that’s misleading and hurtful.

I was thinking about that recently after interviewing a family where a teenage girl was hit by a car in a crosswalk. She was grievously wounded and it was not clear for days and days that she would survive. Then it seemed likely she’d live, but not even the doctors treating her would speculate as to what her life would be like or whether damage she’d suffered would be overcome or form a permanent part of a new and more limited reality.

In the meantime, total strangers speculated about all kinds of things. They threw out their theories — often presented as if they had some bit of knowledge to back up the supposition they were presenting as fact. On Facebook and in the comment section of a news article and in chitchat throughout the neighborhood they dished with each other about what the girl was doing — and doing wrong — that led to the crash. They suspected the girl was goofing off or the driver had been drinking or …

Not a word of it was fact-based or accurate. It was just painful dreck to be waded through for two families already struggling with life-and-death issues. They were forced to divert precious energy to counter lies presented as truth.

It hurt to hear the recap of the event, and I thought about the times I’ve “harmlessly” responded to a news story or a conversation with “I’ll bet he was …” as if I had the slightest clue what I was talking about.

If you paid attention to me over the years, you may have gotten the notion I have insider knowledge on questions like whether OJ Simpson was guilty of murder, among I don’t know how many other things.

I haven’t spent much time thinking about what the speculation feels like not only to those accused but to those who are clearly the victims of something. It can put people in danger, as we saw with the Boston Marathon bombing and an attack in Europe where people sitting at their computers far, far away “identified” the wrong person as suspects based on speculation and then passed on the bad information widely.

It turns out, I can tell you what my marriage and my neighborhood and my kids are like. I can tell you about my own hopes and dreams, and usually I can explain why I do certain things, even when they’re kind of inexplicable.

But when it comes to others’ lives, I can’t tell you much. And if I actually know enough to speak up, it likely means I shouldn’t.

Email: lois@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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