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"I admit to being clueless some of the time, but not yet incapable of learning."

I was rushing home via the shortcut when my accuser waylaid me. "You've been disrespecting my sister," he proclaimed.

"Huh? What??," I cleverly retorted, gobsmacked by his accusation.

He repeated his earlier insistence. I knew this guy's name but nothing more about him. I'd until then been unaware that he even had a sister. I explained the facts as I understood them. (These might have seemed like a lame dismissal to him.) He escalated, insisting that he was honor-bound to fight me to regain his sister's honor. I'm thinking, "Really? What IS this, King Arthur and his Round Table?" He would not let me pass, finally throwing a frenzied punch which mostly missed me.

Still stunned with disbelief, I tried to just go around him, but he continued the assault. I finally deigned to engage, throwing my first punch in anger (more like in goaded frustration, really), which connected enough to yield a bloody nose for him and an early end to hostilities. He went home crying. I went home feeling guilty.
Thus ended my first and only fight in all of my school years, indeed, in all of my years so far.

Years later, I met one of The Muse's high school classmates whose husband, upon learning that I was from Walla Walla, asked me if I knew his second cousin who also grew up there. It was my accuser. I owned up to knowing him slightly, not well, and chose not to recount the story of my first fist fight. I did mention that I'd heard he had a sister, and the second cousin confirmed that this was, indeed, the case. So much for my stroll down that memory lane.

Lately, though, accusations seem to be grabbing a lot of headline space. I see a similar pattern as my fist fight experience playing out again and again. When someone makes an accusation, Napoleonic Law seems to come into effect: guilty until proven innocent. One wants to give any benefit of any doubt to the self-proclaimed wronged party, of course, which yields them the presumption that their accusation is accurate until proven otherwise. These presumptions can't help but infringe a bit on the rights of the accused, who might or might not be guilty. No charges have been filed, after all, and the presumption of the innocence of both parties should perhaps properly prevail until a dispassionate review of the situation demonstrates otherwise. Presuming that the accuser's correct might undermine resolution. It might, like in my experience, lead to the accuser stumbling home with a bloody nose nobody wanted. These situations seem to bloody the accused whatever the eventual outcome.

Those who rush in with the constitution complaining about a subversion of justice might attract their own accusers who insist that any defense of any accused amounts to an offense against the accuser. Why wouldn't I believe the accuser? Well, a certain personal experience in a Junior High School parking lot comes to mind. We maintain a justice system and oversight boards to attempt to discover underlying facts behind accusations. The perception of a wrong does not automatically result in anyone having been wronged, regardless of the sincere feelings an accuser might hold. An investigation ensues, an inquiry concludes, impartial reviewers consider and then pass judgement. Fist fights settle nothing.

I have been accused several times in my life. I've learned that I have little defense against any convinced accuser. The harder I might try to explain my perspective, the deeper the accuser's disbelief. I was once accused of wielding white privilege when I wasn't certain what the accuser even meant by the term, an admission that, in my accuser's eyes, only reinforced their misconception. Or mine. I'd offered to engage in a discovery dialogue, but of course my accuser found that too threatening, asking that I just apologize instead. Shaking my head, I wrote a heartfelt apology for this apparently undefinable trespass which my accuser rejected as not a real apology. I finally just shuffled away, concluding that my accuser had never wanted satisfaction, except, perhaps for the back-handed satisfaction Napoleonic Law provides before any trial.

I appreciate that the powerless hold little leverage against the powerful, and that accusations can sometimes serve to produce some resolution to some situations. I've been run over by the powerful, too, but damaged more by those who apparently feel powerless in my presence and choose to bring me down rather than bring resolution. I admit to being clueless some of the time, but not yet incapable of learning. My accusers never seemed to suspect this about me, leaving me simply guilty as charged whatever the mitigating circumstances. Maybe not knowing he had a sister was the disrespect he referred to.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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