A Philosopher's Blog

Sympathy for Lisa Nowak

Posted in Ethics by Michael LaBossiere on August 24, 2007

I was watching the coverage of Lisa Nowak today on CNN and now feel a great deal of sympathy for her.While it is quite evident that she did many wrong things, it is sad to see someone who is so intelligent and capable in such a situation (albeit self-inflicted). Although most people would not go that far, almost everyone knows that love (or similar strong emotions-I’m not quite sure if love truly fits here) can lead people to do crazy things. However, the fact that I feel sympathy does not mean that her actions were not wrong.

Being a mother, she has duties to her children and she should have thought of them when she was packing her bag to go after the other woman. While parents do have the right to have a life apart from their children, they are obligated to not do things that could harm their children-directly or indirectly. Nowak should have realized that her actions could very well lead to jail, thus denying her children her care.

Being married, she was also obligated to not be messing around with another man. If she was unhappy with her husband and wanted to be with the other man, then she should have gotten a divorce. Divorce is fairly quick and easy in America.

Obviously, she should not have attacked the other woman. While the whole situation is a moral mess, attacking another person is clearly not acceptable in this sort of situation. She was not defending herself-she was apparently acting from jealously and anger. Despite her moral failings, I still have sympathy for Nowak. In my youth, I was very judgmental and very limited in my sympathy. But, time has taught me that anyone can fall-we are imperfect beings and sometimes we take the wrong path. My sympathy is mainly this: it makes me sad that she made the choices she did and ended up where she did. Do I think she made a wrong choice? Yes-many wrong choices, in fact. She should not have cheated on her husband. She should have thought about her children. She should not have gone after that other woman. But she did and I am sorry that she did those evil things. Should she be punished? Yes. Should someone try to help her? Of course, but redemption is up to her. She has to decide to seek forgiveness and take the steps needed for redemption. I hope she is able to do this and that she finds happiness some day.

My sympathy is consistent with my moral judgment-I can feel bad for someone and still regard them as in the wrong. For example, I feel sympathy for students I catch copying papers off the web. I am sorry that they made such a bad choice.  I fail them not just to punish them but in the hopes that they will learn to do what is right. I do so not out of anger, but because I care about them. So, they have my sympathy…and a zero.

For those who might wonder, I feel sympathy for almost everyone who has fallen. I think this is right and important-we have an obligation to care about each other and to want the best for others. Sometimes what is best for someone is punishment-it is what they need. In many cases when people do wrong it is because they lack caring and sympathy. They hurt someone because they do not care enough about other people. If we do not care about such people, then we are making the same moral mistake they make. This does not mean that we have to give a murderer a big hug and a teddy bear. We might have to give such a person a bullet.

One obvious reply to all this is to ask “would you feel sympathy is someone did you a terrible wrong?” Being an honest person, I admit that how I feel is not something that I can control at will. So, I might feel only anger and hate towards someone who did me or someone I loved a horrible wrong. But, unless they are a monster without even the slightest bit of humanity left, they would still deserve sympathy. They might not get it from me, but that would be my failing.

This, of course, raises a final question: are some people so evil that they do not deserve sympathy at all? While it is often said that everyone has some good in them, I do consider it possible for there to be someone who is beyond human sympathy. This person would need to have knowingly and freely chosen evil and would have to be devoid of all the better human qualities. In short, such a person would be purely monstrous and completely inhuman. I suspect that some of these creatures do walk among us, but I sincerely hope not.


4 Responses

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  1. Joe said, on August 24, 2007 at 6:27 pm

    I would love to have nide picotrial of her. She and I could rake in millions.

  2. mlabossi said, on August 25, 2007 at 6:41 pm

    You’d need to learn how to spell first.

  3. Lisa Nowak said, on August 26, 2007 at 3:21 pm

    Gee I guess you don’t have “sympathy” for Joe. Let’s put down Joe for misspelling. Let’s make him feel bad for having the temerity to actually post on your stupid blog. I hope your “sympathy” is expressed differently to your students. Sounds like you have a lot of “sympathy” for women, and married mothers.

  4. Hannah said, on May 11, 2008 at 5:14 pm

    wow, cool, this is kind of what I was writing before I looked it up – does evil deserve symapthy?. how strange. never heard of Lisa Nowak, but the general theme comes across clearly, thanks!

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