I remember when I was a kid, this older role model type figure was telling me about how he became lactose intolerant. Apparently, when he was in college, he was too lazy to cook, so he would just eat cereal every day. He did this for such an extended period of time that he was eventually hospitalized and afterwards was unable to drink milk again. I remember I laughed at him for being so dumb. Looking back, I realize how ignorant I was.
Here’s a related story: when I was around the same age, I read the book of Judges and learned about Samson. For those that don’t know, Samson’s this alpha leader of the Israelites who goes around fucking up God’s enemies and anyone who looks at him wrong. He’s famous for slaughtering a band of Philistines with a donkey’s jawbone. What happens to Samson is a classic tale of someone making really poor life decisions.
Samson falls in love with a Philistine woman named Delilah. She’s bribed by Samson’s enemies to get him to reveal the secret of his strength to her. She pesters him constantly, asking him day and night to open up to her about his vulnerabilities. Each time she asks him, he makes up some bullshit. The first time he “confesses”, he goes, “Tie me up with some newly bound rope. I’ll lose the source of my power.” Next day, he wakes up tied with in some fresh rope and is attacked. The next time she asks, he tells her, “tie up my hair and I’ll lose my strength.” Next day, he wakes up with tied up hair and is promptly ambushed. This cycles on for a while. Eventually, he’s like, “Fuck it. Here’s my real weakness. Cut off my hair and I’ll lose my strength.” Of course, the next day he wakes up with no hair, and having lost the source of his power, he’s captured by the Philistines. They gouge out his eyeballs and parade him around at a party, at which point he kills everyone by knocking down the supporting pillar of the banquet hall everyone’s feasting in, thereby toppling the building. What’s the shared moral between these two stories?
When I was younger, I scoffed at the people in these stories. These people ended up the way they did because they made bad decisions. Now that I’m not such a snot nosed brat, I really hesitate to judge people who are victimized by their bad decisions. We all make bad decisions. I’m certainly far from perfect. I’m only lucky that my bad decisions haven’t impacted me so negatively.
Younger me would’ve thought, “Well, it’s their own fault, because they kept making the same mistakes over and over again. Why did that dumbass eat only cereal every day?” That was my opinion as someone uneducated on life. Now that I’m older, I can easily see how I might’ve fallen into similar traps: having to work full time and cook and clean for myself, I can envision eating cereal every day for the sheer sake of convenience. I don’t, but I do eat out most days, because by the time I get home, I’m tired. I don’t feel like putting in the effort to cook. I just want to eat and relax. I know I shouldn’t eat out so much, but I’m pretty burnt out after work; I’ll put off thinking until I’m at work.
“Well,” my younger self might counter, “What about Samson? Why did he blab his secrets to this succubus? She tried to kill his ass multiple times. How stupid do you have to be to confess your secrets to someone like that?” To that, I’d say, shit ain’t that easy when emotions are involved. There are two possible interpretations I have for the story of Samson:
- Love. It’s really hard to make clear headed decisions when you care about someone else. You can sacrifice your own livelihood to care for someone else because you feel that strongly about them. Think of people who quit their jobs or throw away their savings for medical expenses for their loved ones. Even if the chance of survival is slim, it’s still worth taking to them. Maybe Samson loved Delilah that deeply that even if he knew she was going to betray him, he confessed to her because he wanted to believe that she wasn’t actually going to kill him.
- Emotional abuse. It’s also possible he was browbeaten into it. There are many stories of domestic abuse, and people always question why the victims stayed with their abusers for as long as they did. Common answers are, they felt trapped, or they had been devalued so much that they didn’t think anyone else would want them, and so forth. Basically, the abuser harangues their victim for such an extended period of time that they lose sight of their other options. Personally, I see the story of Samson as a subversion of the classical archetype of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is typically associated with meek, submissive people, mostly women, who are imprisoned by big, abusive men. Samson is the complete opposite. He’s renowned for his strength and vigor. But even a guy as tough as Samson can fall prey to abuse. Domestic abuse isn’t something that fits one mold; Anyone can be a victim to it.
Again, the moral of the story is to stop yourself from rushing to judgement. When you hear a story that sounds dumb to you, keep in mind the perspective of the teller. You didn’t go through what they did. Learn some empathy. Even if you still judge other people harshly, at least you understand the background behind their decisions.