The Boundary Between Understanding and Condemnation: How to Be An Empath Without Condoning Bad Behaviour

I’ve been struggling with something massive of late. It has felt incredibly testing, and yet to some it may seem trivial.

I have struggled with balancing my understanding of, and empathy for, those who chose to storm The Capitol, with my condemnation of their violent, murderous behaviour.

Every person who illegally entered The Capitol on 6 January 2021 was guilty of a heinous action. All of those rioters have blood on their hands, whether they were directly responsible for the violence and murder, or not. They chose to be a part of those actions that put a great many innocent people in danger.

However…

Those rioters were lied to. They were gas lit for four years. They were fed untruths, manipulated facts, and outright lies. They were incited on that very day to commit violence by the – quite literal – fighting talk of those who took the stage outside the White House.

The people who entered The Capitol buildings were sick and tired. They were fed up with hearing from Trump all the alleged ways that the Democrats and mainstream media were ganging up against them. They were angered to be told that there was fraud in the election. Of course, because they were so conditioned by Trump to trust all he said, they didn’t believe the overwhelming evidence that said fraud did not occur.

This is where my difficulty lies. I do not condone the violence. I was sickened by it, as I watched it unfold. I labelled those rioters ‘domestic terrorists’ along with most mainstream media. It was a deserved label: their behaviour warranted it.

Those heinous crimes did not come from nothing though. They directly stemmed from the fomenting of violence from the upper echelons of US politics. No doubt other ‘stories’ from those rioters’ pasts also came into play. Children of violent parents are more likely to become violent themselves, for example. There are always reasons for behaviours playing out in ways we don’t always realise.

We don’t act in a vacuum.

We are all influenced by the stories that we carry around with us, the environments we’ve grown up in.

Of course, it was Trump’s platform that allowed him to disseminate his views and get to so many people. Someone with a smaller platform than the former president may have simply been considered to be exercising “free speech”. When it becomes about inciting people to march on The Capitol, however, that moves from “freedom of speech” to “hate speech”.

The main arena that we hear about gaslighting is that of domestic abuse. Whether he knew it or not, Trump was an abuser towards every single person that read his now ex-Twitter feed. He was playing on the emotions of every one of his followers, lying to them, rousing them to support him in whatever way they could.

And who knows what issues those followers have? Who knows what traumas they’ve experienced in life that may make them behave in an unacceptable and dangerous way? As a man in one of the most powerful positions in the world, I believe that Trump had a duty to protect those he supported.

Instead, he led them to commit murder.

Trump was willing to sacrifice his own supporters, as well as the innocent lives of those working in The Capitol. And those law enforcement officers he claims to be so devoted to? They were forced to defend themselves against a baying mob.  

Abusers do that. They make you think you’re all in this together. That Trump himself will march up Pennsylvania Avenue with you. But all that is BS.

Did Trump cause the storming of The Capitol?
Yes, I think he did.

And yet, I cannot condone the behaviour of any of those who rioted. I have compassion for each and every one of those people that felt driven to act that way, but I cannot condone the violence.

They made the choice to take Trump’s words and react in a violent way.

The truth is that it’s extremely likely not everyone at The Capitol that day or rally were protesting with violence or calling for the death of Mike Pence and other lawmakers. We should all have the right to protest peacefully, that is a linchpin of a democratic society.

I empathize with the reason for protesting. Those doing so believed the lies, genuinely convinced that the Democrats had somehow manipulated the election. They have a right to that opinion. It is not as if the vast majority of rioters were rioting for the sake of committing violent acts.

I understand their reasoning, but not their decisions to step over The Capitol’s threshhold.
I cannot empathize with violence.

The thing with empathy and condemning behaviour is that it’s not an either/or situation. We get to empathize and condemn.

We empathize and we show compassion, but we also condemn the violent action those people decided to take.

It is okay to say “No” to people’s behaviour.
It is okay for there to be boundaries, even with those you love and empathise with the most.

There may not be a boundary to my empathy, compassion, and understanding, but there should be a boundary to what I allow to happen, to what I condone happening.

Every person has free will to behave however they desire. They get to choose.

Each of those attending Trump’s rally made a decision: to go home; to stand outside The Capitol and protest peacefully; to break into The Capitol; or to commit violence and kill a law enforcement officer.

All rioters made a decision influenced by Trump, but out of their own free will.

“And what about Trump himself” you may be asking. Surely I cannot have empathy and compassion for someone I’ve outlined as an abuser, a man who cared not a jot for the safety of his fellow humans?

I have empathy for Trump. He, too, will have stories and interpretations that come from the environment he grew up in, perhaps his mental health, and the beliefs developed throughout his years as a businessman. We never know what someone else is going through, or what they are being influenced by.

I have no idea whether Trump truly believes everything that he says. If he does, then I most definitely have empathy for him, since to be that deluded is a sad situation.

But do I condone his actions on January 6th?
Most certainly NOT.

The rally that Trump held was what allowed the insurrection to occur. I don’t condone that.
Trump did not send in the National Guard, but Mike Pence. I don’t condone the President not doing this.


Conclusion

In conclusion, I believe the most important thing we must remember is that people always have a reason for what they do. We may not know the reason, but there will be a reason.

That is why I am able to have empathy for others’ thoughts and opinions, what they have come to believe.

Alongside remembering that we all have reasons for what we say, we must also acknowledge that we have free will over our actions. No one can make us do something that we don’t want to.

I have empathy, but I also have boundaries.

I do not condone every action anyone takes, even when I can empathise with how they’ve ended up deciding on it. They had free will to choose that action.

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