Some people see their lives as something they own and maneuver the best they can. Others see themselves as victims of what life dishes up. I believe most of us have a choice in the matter.

Robbie is the adopted son of a lifelong friend. He’s been through a lot. As a child, Robbie was abused in every way imaginable by people he should have been able to trust. Then, he went through a foster care system that was stretched and underfunded.

I met Robbie when he was thirteen, two years after his adoption. He was a great kid, a gifted athlete with a love of science and math. He grew tall and handsome. Robbie breezed through high school with honors in class and on the basketball court. Then college hit and something changed. Robbie left school in the second semester of his first year. Ten years passed with a few ephemeral efforts at college, several job starts, one serious run-in with the law and lots of alcohol and drugs. Robbie’s charm and intelligence got him through one calamity after another. He started treatment programs numerous times and was a patient of several psychologists. My friend, Robbie’s dad, continued to try to find a solution, while his son became more depressed, then suicidal. Eventually, Robbie came to stay with us for a while, just to rest up and gather his thoughts. He and I would walk and talk. He’d tell stories about how he had been abused as a child, about all the unadvised transitions forced on him by the foster system. He’d explain how the colleges he’d attended were totally out of sync with the modern world, and how he had been misdiagnosed by mental health professionals. Usually, I would just listen and nod, but one day Robbie was particularly insistent. He kept pushing me for an answer. I wanted to tell Robbie that for many years, I defined myself as a victim. I found all kinds of people and circumstances to blame for what I did or didn’t do, and maybe he was stuck on the same victim path I’d traveled for so long. I wanted to tell him to get on a different path with his feelings and behavior, that taking responsibility would make him feel better. But there was a stronger voice within me that said being quietly present was more important than providing personal stories and advice. So I stayed quiet and continued to listen. A few days later, Robbie packed up and I haven’t heard from him since. Did I do the right thing?