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When Someone You Know Does Something Appalling

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When Someone You Know Does Something Appalling

Nobody is perfect; this we all know and accept. Whether it’s telling a white lie, idle gossip, or yelling at our children, it is common knowledge that from time to time, we all make these bad decisions at least sometimes. Clearly, some people have higher morals and stronger values than others, and some people engage in indiscretions more frequently than others.

But what happens when someone you know, a seemingly good person, engages in appalling behavior and you’re aware of it? Whether it is a friend, neighbor, teacher, pastor, rabbi or coach, what would you do? Imagine if you knew your best friend was cheating on her husband. Or if a parent at school was spreading false rumors about another parent. How about if your neighbor was stealing all the fruit off another neighbor’s tree? Or your rabbi knowingly hired someone with a criminal record.

Should you tell or just keep it to yourself? How on earth will you know what the right thing to do is?

Recently in the news, a PTA parent became jealous of and angry with another PTA parent who had opposing views from hers. The angry parent took things to an extreme, planting drugs in the other parent’s vehicle and having her arrested for it. She followed that with false rumors about alleged drug use and made her out to be a horrible person, which she wasn’t.

Ultimately, after much time, stress and damage to her reputation, the innocent parent was cleared and the crazy one was charged with a crime. If you had been friends with the crazy parent here, and knew she had planted those drugs out of vengeance against an innocent parent, what would you have done? Anything? Nothing?

Here are some helpful tips for how to decide what to do if you ever find yourself in the situation where someone you know has done something appalling.

  1. Consider why or why not to tell. Are you telling to make yourself feel better or seem righteous? Would it just be idle gossip, or are you telling to potentially save someone from or minimize someone else’s pain? Is the person you know engaging in illegal activity that needs to be reported, or is it just something that you find immoral?
  2. Consider the infraction and its impact on you or others. Is it lying, deceitful, hurtful behavior directed at you or someone you love? Is it damaging to someone’s reputation or career? Should the person who did it expect that others will find out or that there would be strong consequences for what they have done? Are you making a big deal out of nothing or are you minimizing a really serious issue?
  3. Consider the pros and cons of telling. What would happen if you do tell? Will a criminal be stopped in their tracks and sent to prison? Will people believe you or think you’re a gossipy snitch? What would happen if you don’t tell? A husband continues to be cheated on or a child keeps getting abused? Maybe someone keeps driving under the influence and ultimately kills someone?
  4. Consider whom and how do you intend to tell? Are you planning on venting to your spouse in confidence or telling the police about something serious? Do you want to tell your whole group of friends something awful that another friend has done? Will you tell in vague terms, such as “I think Suzy uses drugs,” or more detailed, such as “Suzy uses marijuana, alcohol, and opioids. She has a DUI that she never told you about, and I don’t think it is safe for her to drive your kids or be around them.” It’s important to consider who you would tell and what you would say, as that could affect many things for many people.
  5. Trust your gut. In other words, can you live with yourself if you tell or don’t tell? So often, about so many different issues, I teach people to trust their gut. You are a smart and capable human being, and your instincts should not be ignored. They are almost always correct.

People you thought you knew well can really shock you with inappropriate behavior sometimes. As hard as it might be to know what the right thing is to do in a difficult situation, you are equipped with good decision-making skills. Between trusting your gut and using your brain, you can and will be able to make a good decision about what to do. Above all else, if telling will keep someone safe or prevent something tragic from happening, you have a duty to tell.

Lori Freson Lori Freson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Southern California. She has been working in the mental health field since 1997, and has been a licensed therapist since 2002. Lori currently works in her own thriving private practice in Encino and Sherman Oaks, where she serves the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles areas.
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