Opinion on thieves and other low-grade crime committers

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PinkFreud19
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Opinion on thieves and other low-grade crime committers

Post by PinkFreud19 » Wed Jul 03, 2019 9:41 am

I recently got called up for emotively describing the thief of some of the gadgets on my pushbike a "low life". The person argued that thieves steal because they are desperate, meaning that they are not low lives and that I should be more compassionate.

I felt a little disgruntled hearing this, but struggled to identify exactly why I disagreed. I suppose it assumes that all thieves do so out of desperation, even though many do not, and that we should excuse antisocial behavior on the assumption of adversity. If I saw a mother steal a loaf of bread to feed her starving family, of course I would be compassionate, but this is an unknown entity who likely has an internet device that would allow them to sell my gadget second hand.

Part of me thinks that sometimes inexhaustible compassion may not always be good, and that some thieves would just take advantage of it. One could argue that it is important to treat theft with contempt, as long as you are supportive of political policies that strive toward eliminating poverty.

I thought this might be an interesting thing to get fellow clin psychs opinions on. Was I wrong to call my thief a lowlife? Did I make an assumption that they were not desperate, and if I were to find that they were in piles of debt, should I retract my comment and reflect on my socioeconomic privilege?

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miriam
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Re: Opinion on thieves and other low-grade crime committers

Post by miriam » Thu Jul 04, 2019 4:38 pm

Good reflections PinkFreud19.

I believe in what Dan Hughes calls parenting with two hands - that empathy also has to come with boundaries and consequences. So, there can be a reason that a person steals that might mitigate what they have done (eg stealing food if hungry) but there isn't automatically an explanation that negates the bad choice they have made or the fact they should be given consequences for their actions. Most thieves are not stealing food, or stealing because they would not be able to meet their basic needs without doing so. Many people steal to support an addiction, or because they see an opportunity. Clearly things have gone wrong in their lives to get to that point. However, as you rightly say, the vast majority of people with awful experiences don't go on to the negative trajectories that gain social stigma or blame (eg crime, harming others, addiction, homelessness, self-harm etc) so whilst it can be a contributory factor, it isn't causal. And that means that whilst we can understand and try to address those various underlying issues, both at a societal and individual level, IMO it doesn't make it unreasonable to negatively judge the decision to do something antisocial*.

And it is perfectly normal to be angry with someone who has taken stuff you worked to obtain!

*if I wanted to be pedantic, perhaps it would be more reasonable to be cross with the action, rather than to condemn the whole of the individual that took that action. So it is scummy to steal, but that person might still be a good parent, or a good friend, or someone who would be kind if they saw an old lady fall over, and thus not a totally scummy person. If that makes sense?
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lingua_franca
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Re: Opinion on thieves and other low-grade crime committers

Post by lingua_franca » Fri Jul 05, 2019 12:19 pm

I think it's very natural to be angry and to say something like that in the heat of the moment. I don't think the person who criticised you was being very empathic towards you.

I had an adapted tricycle stolen from me when I lived in an inner-city area of Manchester (CCTV footage showed three men smashing their way into the complex and taking only that, so police suspected they had seen me out and about on it and come with the specific intention of taking only my trike) and I felt almost violated by the loss, especially as it was obvious that the trike was for a disabled person's use. For me that was a piece of my independence, but what was it to them? Over the next few days I was able to take a more compassionate approach, recognising that I lived in a very deprived area with high unemployment and a significant drug problem, and that the unknown thieves possibly had more difficulties in their lives than I did. It doesn't excuse them, and I can't know it for sure, but I decided that in this case I might as well give them the benefit of the doubt. It would do neither me nor them any good to be angry, as it was so unlikely I'd ever see them or have a chance to recover my trike. I also like Dan Hughes's "two hands" idea, but in cases where there is unlikely to be any opportunity for restitution, I try to err on the side of kindness.
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reishi
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Re: Opinion on thieves and other low-grade crime committers

Post by reishi » Sat Jul 06, 2019 7:07 pm

I use the same approach I use for racists (especially working class disadvantaged people). The way they behave might be understandable, but that doesn't excuse their actions as other people come into harm's way because of it.
"Ever since psychoanalysis came up, everybody's ill more or less."

PinkFreud19
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Re: Opinion on thieves and other low-grade crime committers

Post by PinkFreud19 » Tue Jul 09, 2019 1:26 pm

Hi all, thank you for your very lucid interpretations of this issue. It is very validating to hear that you feel I was right to be annoyed. Lingua, I am awfully sorry to hear about what happened; that sounds like an incredibly, as you say, violating experience and I imagine it was difficult not to take it personally.

I suppose this topic drills down to an issue of what language is fair and not fair to describe an unknown entity that has brought harm to someone. I agree, Miriam, that a person who does bad things is not necessarily bad across the board (often they are not), and so any choice of language that suggests that their bad actions generalise to them being a bad person is probably unhelpful. That said, I think if I saw someone in my situation react in the way that I did, I would probably see their sub optimal choice of language as understandable in the context.

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Re: Opinion on thieves and other low-grade crime committers

Post by workingmama » Wed Jul 10, 2019 10:27 am

I see both your choice of language as understandable in the situation and also (as you said) unhelpful to generalize bad actions to badness of a person. Sorry to hear of the theft.
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miriam
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Re: Opinion on thieves and other low-grade crime committers

Post by miriam » Wed Jul 10, 2019 2:26 pm

I also wonder whose reaction to someone they knew having been a victim of crime would be to criticise their language when reacting to it. It seems like that speaks of self-righteousness, rather than the compassion for all they are expecting you to express.
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alexh
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Re: Opinion on thieves and other low-grade crime committers

Post by alexh » Fri Jul 19, 2019 11:58 am

Yep, just not woke enough to use correct language when you have been the victim of a theft. Must try harder. :)

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