Nancy Roman


An old friend from work is in a very messy situation.

She’s a wreck. Her family is a wreck. 

And there is no way to get around it – she brought it on herself.

I’m sure you know someone like Maggie. If there are two choices, she will pick the worse one every time. It’s as if she confronts every decision by saying, “Oh, this way will probably screw up my life, but I’m going to do it anyway.”

And the “anyway” NEVER works out. I wonder if maybe there was a time, way back before I knew Maggie, when a bad decision did work out for her. When she skated away from a mess. Perhaps it was so exhilarating to come so close to disaster – and escape – that the thrill of a bad decision is irresistible.

Honestly, though, I don’t think so. I don’t believe Maggie makes terrible decisions because they are exciting. I think the answer is more mundane. Maggie has no capacity for prediction. There is no “cause and effect” gene in her. Simply stated, she has no imagination.

Imagination is a necessary skill in decision-making. We need to be able to see what could happen. And Maggie’s lack of imagination is specific. She can’t imagine the bad outcome. 

Most of us excel at picturing the worst. That’s why we worry. I wrote once that my mother turned worry into an art form. I named it “Ditch-picturing.” No one could conjure up more vivid images of loved ones lying in a ditch than my mom.

But Maggie can’t picture the worst. (It’s probably one of the reasons she has so many friends, despite our frustration with her.) She never sees the worst when it is right in front of her, never mind imagining future troubles. She has no idea why her life is such a mess.

Oh, we friends advise her. We try to steer her in the right direction. But Maggie is like the Titanic, moving inexorably in the direction of disaster. We may say, “Why don’t you take care of that now, and we’ll help you, instead of missing another deadline?” And she says, “Oh, thanks. I will.”  

But she doesn’t.

And the authorities, whoever they are at the time, eventually come swooping down with demands and penalties and blame.

Of course, she deserves it.

Every lousy thing that has happened to her in the years I have known her is her own fault.

There are bills not paid, calls not returned, forms not filled out, jobs lost, cars abandoned.

And yet, what I feel for Maggie is not blame.  

It’s empathy.

Talking with a mutual friend recently, the friend said, “I can’t feel sorry for Maggie any longer. She brought in all on herself.”

I understand how my friend feels. It’s maddening to watch someone make the same mistakes over and over. We help Maggie, but is it helping or enabling? Can she ever learn to save herself if we keep rescuing her?

And yet. Empathy.

I see that Maggie has made a disaster of her own life. But I also see how easy it is for small disasters to pile up. Or to accept that your life is a mess, and just go with it. To turn a blind eye to your own complicity in the mess.

I can still feel sympathy for Maggie, even as I recognize her responsibility. If someone had cancer from a lifetime of smoking, wouldn’t you still feel sad that they are in pain? Can we find the same sympathy for a person who cannot manage her life decisions as we can for a person who couldn’t manage her physical addictions? Both made bad choices. Can we love them anyway?

Can we forget blame?

Can we forget about what people deserve?

Or at least give people the kind-hearted thing we all deserve – to recognize their humanity, their imperfections, and their pain.

Empathy without blame is a good definition of Kindness.


  1. Kaye

    That sounds like TD. It’s called poor executive functioning. TD is that way because his mother drank a lot of alcohol during pregnancy – FASD. It actually shrinks the part of the brain that makes decisions and remembers to do’s. Maybe your friend has some form of brain damage like that? Empathy is the right response no matter the cause.


  2. Yes some people have train wrecks for a life

    Liked by 1 person

  3. LA

    I like your definition

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh lordy and the amaryllis, I’m laughing inside, because I remember a friends Mother’s “Ditch-picturing” words being the same 🤨 and believe me her daughter’s actual answer: “Well Mother, at least when they turn me over I’ll have a smile on my face!” 🙃

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My daughter is very much like your friend Maggie. There is a French expression we’d use when she told us how one of her decisions went wrong: C’était écrit dans le ciel (loosely translated: it was written in the sky). She is an adult now and as her mother, it’s better if I just nod and smile when she tells me about a new plan that will surely go awry. And, of course, be there for her when it does.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I worry, and I told my husband a few weeks ago, when he was exasperated with my worry, that it was because I had a vivid imagination…so I get your mom. Though I don’t think I’m quite that bad. Maybe.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “Can we forget about what people deserve?” I hope so! If God gave me everything I deserve, I’d be in worse shape than Job! If He can give me grace instead if punishment, that’s the least I can do for my friends! ❤ Empathy is the key to a more peace-filled life. Thank yu for your blog. A good reminder! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh I relate to you and your hapless friend. I have known a few people like that, I give them great advice when asked, and they don’t follow it. You are right though, we can still empathize with their sorrows.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Ginger

    Love your definition. I work with children and I teach “always choose kindness”. Thank you for sharing your lovely thoughts and beautiful paintings.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Some people just need someone to listen to them and have a friend like you to be there for them.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Audrey Hepburn. We should all have the kindness of Audrey Hepburn…and you.

    Liked by 1 person

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