On Balance

I really feel that I should follow up on my last post where I said 'a few things'.  I was feeling pretty conflicted when I wrote that and since then I've had time to simmer down a little and reflect.  It's not that I've changed my opinions really, but I've had chance to put a few things in order in my head.

One of the things I said was that 'on balance' I believe that my son is better off with me.  I know that sounds harsh and would perhaps offend birth parents, and some in the adoptee community who feel the loss and rejection of being abandoned or removed from their birth family very deeply, but that's why I included the words 'on balance'.

No human life runs perfectly.  Some people seem to have all the luck but, in reality, all of our lives are full of decisions between various options, and often the best we can achieve is an 'on balance' best.  Adoptees are not unique in this respect.  None of us can choose the circumstances of our birth or early years; in fact we will have been alive for many years before we can have a real effect on the direction our lives will take.  As a result, we are all living with the consequences of decisions that were taken on our behalf before we were in a position to have any say on the matter.

Neither are we born as 'clean slates' as I read somewhere recently.  We are all born with a genetic heritage, the effects of which cannot be fully quantified, but are certain to include certain physical characteristics as well as, possibly, hereditary conditions, or predispositions to certain conditions.  None of that is within our control. 

Genetic factors, environmental factors, personalities, family circumstances . . . these are just some of the things that work together to make each individual's life unique.  Even if two people have shared some of the same life experiences, there is no reason to believe that the consquences of these experiences will have played out the same way in both of their lives.  Two people can respond quite differently to virtually identical experiences.

This is why I cringe when I hear someone say something like, "You can't understand unless you have experienced [x/y/z]".    Firstly, this sentence crushes conversation and discussion rather like the infamous debate-ending Nazi analogy of Godwin's law.  It denies the other person in the conversation any rights whatsoever to engage with the topic at hand, assuming that unless they have direct personal experience of the exact circumstances under discussion, they can have nothing of relevance to contribute.  In my experience, the "You can't understand . . . " card is usually played when the speaker is not getting the sort of sympathetic response they were looking for, and in that context simply closes down the conversation, leaving the speaker free to carry on feeling or thinking whatever they want, closed to any advice, direction or input that does not chime with their emotional state at that time.

Secondly, it's a sentence that plays on the cult of individualistic, experience-based thinking that seems to hold sway in just about every arena, where a person's own feelings on an issue that they are strongly invested in may not be challenged in any way.  While individuals' experiences are to be listened to seriously, they are not the only, or necessarily the best, forms of information on any given subject.  There is a reason why policies for dealing with terrorists and kidnappers are formulated by those who are not actually experiencing those crises - nobody in their right mind would ever say "We do not negotiate with terrorists" if it was their child who was in danger.  In that situation, burdened with a strong emotional reaction, the long-term benefits of refusing to negotiate with terrorists would be completely forgotten, seeming irrelevant and cruel.  In some circumstances, we need to step away from the maelstrom of emotion, and make decisions based on wider principles - 'on balance' decisions.

It simply isn't possible to have walked in everyone's shoes and sometimes that level of empathy is not what's really needed anyway.  Why does everybody need to be 'understood' all the time?  Am I not able to give a convincing description of my feelings, experiences and opinions that can be easily absorbed by another person, regardless of whether they have experienced the same situation in their own life?  Surely, we can push our ability to communicate complex ideas and thoughts beyond a basic emotional outpouring?  If we speak effectively and listen carefully, then we ought to be able to communicate even the most profound ideas and experiences without relying on pure emotional empathy.

So, let's just say that I will never know what "it" was like for you, and you'll never know what "it" was like for me, regardless of what we are talking about . . . and then move on, shall we?

Because I fully accept that I will never know what it is like for my son to have been neglected, abandoned and then adopted.  But I hope to be able to give him something more valuable than my ability to 'understand'.  I hope to give him the ability to look at his circumstances, difficult as they may have been, and then to choose to walk past them.  I don't expect this to be an easy journey, but I believe it to be a possible one.

Every single one of us lives a life that begins with a raft of circumstances that we have had no control over.  We can live the rest of our lives in the shadow of that, or in acknowledgement of it.  As a Christian, I believe in an omnipotent God.  I often hear people asking why a "so-called good God" could allow various 'bad' things to happen.  I don't really have the answer to this question - personally I think that if I was able to understand everything that went on in God's mind, then he wouldn't really be all that much of a deity!  Certainly, God doesn't promise us that bad things will never happen.  What he does promise us is that the consequences of those bad things are fleeting in the context of eternity; that although there may be weeping now, joy comes with the morning.  In short, he offers us a choice to live a life that is not governed and shadowed by the 'bad things' and their consequences.

My son's abandonment and adoption are a part of his life, but the consequences of those things do not need to rule his life.  Would it have been better if he had been born into a family that could love him, care for him and keep him safe?  Yes.  But that didn't happen.  Plenty of people's 'perfect' lives are thwarted by situations outside of their control.  You can only work with what you've got. 

On balance, considering where we started, things are turning out pretty well for him so far - humanly-speaking, that is.  Eternally speaking?  Well, that really will be his choice.


  1. I found this very interesting. Indeed as much as we can really try to be empathetic, it is often only when we talk with people with shared experiences that we feel like we "belong". I will do my best to understand my daughter's feelings about her history without imposing my own "stuff" on top, but it can be hard to have a 100% open mind. This approach will have to be "good enough".

    I can relate to your conflicted feelings too. I feel differently about my daughter's birth family at different times. I believe that "we belong together" but I wouldn't be surprised if she wanted to find out all there is to know about her history. It doesn't diminish us as a family for her to acknowledge her origins, but it's easy to say that isn't it?

    I really enjoy your blog - I've subscribed now - looking forward to reading more.

    1. Thank you for reading, and subscribing :) You are right about the importance of shared experience, and I wouldn't want to downplay that. I have found that valuable in my own life - indeed that's why I value the adopter blogging community!


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