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Making a Murderer: An Important Reminder

My Facebook feed indicates I’m not the only one who has been obsessed with Netflix’s Making a Murderer. This documentary tells the fascinating story of Steven Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, convicted of murdering a young woman in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin in 2005. I was riveted by all the twists and turns, but realize the story was told from one point of view. As soon as I finished watching, I began reading what I could find in an effort to learn the “whole story.” I still don’t know what to think and I’m glad my opinion doesn’t really matter. It must be the mediator in me.

There are times, however, when my opinion does matter. A lot. I work as a Guardian ad Litem for child protection cases, as well as a parenting consultant in the family law world. This is important work and the people I serve have a lot riding on the recommendations and decisions I make. Making a Murderer reminded me how important it is to be humble when working with issues that impact people in such enormous ways.

One person in Making a Murderer, Len Kachinsky (Brendan Dassey’s first attorney), completely astounded me with his total lack of humility. Mr. Kachinsky had all the necessary education, training, and experience to do a sufficient job defending Mr. Dassey. Despite all these qualifications, he assumed the knew “the truth” about his client’s guilt before even speaking with him, and proceeded accordingly.

Humility reminds us that we don’t know everything. It also helps us remember that people are people, regardless of social class, education level, and life circumstance. Brendan Dassey is described in the documentary as “learning disabled” and “slow,” making it difficult for him to understand who was advocating for him and who was working against him. Mr. Kachinsky did not take the time to listen to Mr. Dassey, or even to explain to him that he was supposed to be on his side.

In an effort to help myself avoid the same mistakes made by Mr. Kachinsky, I compiled this list of questions to ask myself before I make any recommendations or decisions. I think these are important questions to ask in order to remain humble, regardless of what field of work we are in.

  • What don’t I know? I don’t necessarily need to know everything, but I do need to be aware of what I don’t know. Arrogance often creates problems in this area; I need to be humble enough to admit what I don’t know.
  • Do I know enough? Do I have all of the relevant facts I need to make this decision or recommendation? If not, are the facts attainable? Do I need to consult another expert in my field to get a second opinion?
  • Am I in a hurry? I am an impatient person with a long to do list. Have I taken the time I need to collect the information I need?
  • What are my biases? Just like everyone else, I bring my own preconceptions, judgments, and values to my work. The best way to remove bias is knowing what these are so you can be as objective as possible.
  • Have I kept an open mind? Have I fully considered every alternative? Have I allowed myself to be swayed in one direction or another? If the answer to either of these questions is no, I have more work to do.

Before I started working in this arena I assumed all judges, attorneys, social workers, and other professionals knew what they were doing and had others’ best intentions in mind. Making a Murderer, and my own experiences, have taught me that this is not always true. I’m hoping using this list of questions will help keep me on the “good guy” list.

Erin Kassebaum provides mediation, coaching and parenting consulting services on a sliding fee scale. She is located in Bloomington. Please feel free to contact Erin with any comments or questions at 612.599.8366, or “Like” her on Facebook: