It’s just one night. That statement, spoken in the quiet hush of a courtroom, caught my attention. My head bowed in silence, listening to the proceedings, snapped up, and tilted to the side, like a dog curious to a sound it just heard. Did I hear that statement correctly? Yes, yes, I did. The defense repeated that statement throughout her speech on behalf of her client. No chance that I accidentally heard that. Nope, none at all.
There are, in my mind, indefensible acts. This particular situation is, without a doubt, one of those. However, in our court law, there is always a defense. A reason, I suppose, that the defendant would enact upon another person a crime heinous enough to be in a courtroom and warrant needing an explanation. As the non-legal professional that I am, I assume that is to ensure that there is a fair trial. Provide an opportunity for the defendant to come up with a reason and present that to the judge. To show innocence perhaps or to gain some level of leniency from the judge. This particular situation was for the latter.
I don’t believe that there was doubt in anyone’s mind that the person committed the crime. In this particular case, and I would imagine many other similar situations when there are police reports and physical evidence to prove that the defendant did commit a crime, all the defendant can hope for is leniency. This person had accepted a plea deal to avoid further court proceedings. The main reason, I learned, was because there was enough evidence to show guilt, and it was unlikely that a jury would find him innocent. Regardless our legal system requires court appearances, the judge listening to both sides of the case, and then passes down the judgment based on what he or she has read and heard from both sides.
Throughout the rest of the time I was in the courtroom, all I thought about was that one statement, ‘It’s just one night.’ The ONLY real defense was that it was JUST ONE NIGHT.
Let’s think about that. The only way that the lawyer could defend her client’s actions was to minimize another person’s experience. Not just to downplay, to strip them of their right to feel about that event in any way they choose. That statement or ones similar have been used throughout history to trivialize and distort the experiences of others. What that is really saying is, why are you making a big deal out of this? It’s not a big deal. You should be ashamed of how you are reacting to this. It is gaslighting in it’s most subtle form.
The real shame is that it has become part of our everyday language to strip away the rights of another to feel what they want and think what they want. It starts when we are kids. We fall and skin our knee, and it hurts. We cry, the pain sharp and surprising to our still-forming brains. What many of us say, or heard ourselves as kids, is to stop crying, it isn’t a big deal. To that child, it is a big deal. Acknowledge that it hurts, that it sucks, and then get a band-aid or whatever. It also happens with experiences that should be reasons to celebrate, like acing that spelling test. Excited you want to share with anyone who will listen, instead of celebrating that win, you are told not to brag, or that isn’t a big deal. This minimizing of experiences continues throughout our lives.
As adults, we minimize the milestones in our lives all the time. It’s just a little bit of a promotion. I just got lucky. And so on. We make our achievements small to make it seem that we aren’t bragging or to ensure that we don’t hurt someone’s feelings or to make people feel better about themselves. I have read this in books. Trust me; I am not the first person to realize this. Rachel Hollis writes in Girl, Wash Your Face that she felt the need to be small, to minimize her successes.
I am here to add to that narrative and to tell you that it’s bullshit to have others minimize your experiences. And yet, we do it to each other, time and time again. Why? Well, this is certainly not my area of expertise, merely observations. I think we do that because we don’t know what else to say, or we feel jealous, or we are threatened in some way by what that person is sharing with us. We need to stop. It isn’t about you, the person who is feeling jealous or threatened or whatever, it’s about the person who is trusting you as their confidant. Don’t take that away from them.
Here is my challenge to you all. Think about what you are going to say before speaking. I know that it is such a novel concept. Think before you speak. It’s like I have heard that before. Nothing new there. Sounds simple, right? It is. It is not easy. Nothing worth doing right is ever easy. It means pausing before responding. It also means a little bit of self-reflection and self-awareness. Ask yourself if what you are about to say will help the other person or if it will just make you feel better about yourself. If it is the latter, shut your mouth.
I know that the defense attorney that I started out writing about was just doing her job and defending her client. I have no ill will towards her. If anything, that one statement got me thinking, and then it got me writing. So, in a bizarre turn of events, thanks to her for saying that it was just one night. That one night has changed the course of three lives. One is in jail, the other is working towards healing, and the third sat up, took notice, and wrote about it.