Home > Things we say > Natural-Born Defense Attorneys (NBDAs)

Natural-Born Defense Attorneys (NBDAs)

I know a few, you know a few. The kind souls that rush to the defense of anyone you make the slightest criticism of, or even a passing remark.

They don’t realize how irritating it is to have thrown in your face this permanent explanation of the reasons people have for doing the stupid things they do or the stupid things that happen.

When in the company of the natural-born defense attorney (NBDA), I try to avoid any remark that could have him/her come back with an instant justification for whoever they perceive as unfairly attacked, but I’m still sometimes caught off guard.

Here are a few examples of natural-born defense attorneys making the case for their client.

  • In a hotel, you say the maid didn’t do a good job of cleaning the room. The NBDA counters by saying that she probably doesn’t know how. I would argue that either she should be in a line of work where she’s competent or, more reasonably, that everyone knows how to clean.
  • You say, “The guy almost ran me over.” The NBDA pleads, “The stop sign at the intersection is not easy to see,” and not, “You must have been scared!” or “These idiots just rush about without paying attention to pedestrians.”
  • You mention in passing that so-and-so hasn’t returned your phone call regarding an event you’re planning together. Exculpating response of the NBDA: “She’s probably traveling,” or “has too much work right now,” or “maybe there’s a death in the family.” It’s never the sensible thing such as “Oh, hasn’t she?” or, “Why don’t you call if it’s important?”
  • You say, “They ruined my skirt at the dry cleaner’s.” The NBDA’s apologia, “These are new people who’ve taken over, they’re not familiar with the machines.”
  • You say, “The style of the building doesn’t go with the rest of the street.” The NBDA counters, “They probably wanted to start a different style and changed their mind.”

Why do I –and people I canvassed regarding the phenomenon—find this so irritating?

By coming up with this constant exoneration of their client, the NBDA, is telling you several things.

1)    It takes a particularly nasty person—you, as it happens—to notice such a benign shortcoming or lapse in someone who has only the best intentions.

2)    The NBDA him/herself is a superior being who, fair and impartial, can always see both sides in any dispute. Which of course is not right as the blame, such as it is, always falls on me or the person who makes the original remark, never on the person about whom it is made. How unbiased is that? Isn’t it telling you that you’re the one who is always wrong?

3)    By always finding other reasons for things instead of going the straightforward route (which would be that the maid may be lazy, the guy a reckless driver, the person organizing that event not reliable, the dry cleaner incompetent, the building standing out an architectural mistake) the NBDA also creates this sense of a world where things are not what you perceive them to be, where you don’t know where you stand, where you can’t trust your own judgment.

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  1. Steven Waxman
    September 28, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    I think the problem is that NBDAs are so busy being (abstractly) fair-minded toward humanity that they forget to empathize with the pain, anger, or frustration of the human being to whom they are speaking.

    When the NBDA rushes to the defense of the other person, instead of you, I think it’s natural to feel invisible or shamed for expressing your emotions. Taken a step further, you can internalize this critical voice and begin to distrust your own perceptions, thoughts, and feelings.

    I think that sometimes all you need to hear is that the other person understands how you feel. Then you can move on and change maids, swerve out of your traffic lane to avoid a collision, or replace the clothing the dry cleaner ruined.


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