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Two Kinds of People

Some people believe that we are where we are and have what we have mainly because of the choices we’ve made.

Others believe that we are where they are and have what we have, ultimately, because of things beyond our control — nature and nurture for example, or good fortune, or the grace of God.

Most people who have led privileged existences are in the first group. People in the first group find it easy to judge others. (After all, if we are the product of the choices we’ve made, then clearly the people who lead privileged existences have made better choices than the people who don’t.) If you know a republican, he’s probably in the first group.

Because it’s easier for people in the first group to judge others, prosecutors are almost universally in the first group. The typical stock argument made by prosecutors in criminal cases highlights the “choices” the accused made — a “first group” argument. Most people who have been beaten down by life a few times are in the second. People in the second group find it easy to empathize with others. It’s easier to see how inexorable forces can control other people’s lives if we’ve felt them in our own. Believing that we are ultimately creatures of factors outside our control, it is easier to imagine ourselves in other people’s shoes.

Because it’s easier for people in the second group to empathize with others, the best criminal-defense lawyers are in the second group. A great criminal-defense lawyers is always seeking the uncontrollable factors that led the accused to do whatever he did.

Being in the second group requires imagination: without imagination it’s hard to see anything beyond the immediate choice. People rarely move from the second group to the first. In my observation, people often move from the first group to the second when they have more exposure to other people’s sorrows and their own.

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