Reading Ursula Le Guin’s work of philosophical fiction entitled The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, afforded me the opportunity to review a concept central to addiction treatment. When family members start becoming worried about the excessive alcohol or drug consumption of a loved one, they invariably end up choosing the wrong course of action. Functioning under a misguided sense of love and loyalty to the addict, they start enabling his negative behaviors. Enabling allows addicts to deny the reality of how far their problem has progressed. An enabler typically facilitates the addict’s drug consumption by means of providing emotional and financial support. This provides him the assurance that someone is there to look out for him and gives him the leverage to continue his drug usage. However, there are many ways in which enabling can affect the behavior of an individual suffering from substance addiction.
Arman Ahmed has done his MS in Clinical Psychology from Government College University, Lahore. He is also an alumni of Forman Christian College and Aitchison College Lahore. His research work includes experimental studies on concepts of emotion regulation, empathy and threatened egotism. His interests also extend to topics in the sphere of social psychology such as locus of control and superstitions.
Editor: Arman Ahmed
Parallels can be drawn between the central story of The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas and the enabling behaviors exhibited by the family members of addicts. Though the story is a criticism on the nature of utilitarian theories of justice and addresses issues such as the people’s quest for material happiness, there is much more that can be drawn from the plot. The complex moral dilemma that underlies the story along with the different choices made by the characters, mirrors those made by the family members of people caught in addiction.
At the heart of the story is the beautiful city of Omelas which is depicted during the festival of summer, where people are gathered in various processions. The people of the city have managed to eliminate excesses from their lives and appear to be completely content with what they possess. The joy and merriment that characterizes the inhabitants of Omelas, conceals a discomforting truth. Beneath the city lies a tiny, windowless room in which a nameless child is imprisoned. The child who knows nothing but despair and alienation, is chosen from the population of the city and exists as a living sacrifice which allows the rest of the citizens to live a peaceful and happy life. Every person in the city becomes aware of the child’s existence at some point and most of them come to accept his suffering based on the belief that the happiness of the townsfolk rests upon it. They accept this reality despite feeling regretful over the deplorable state of the child. On the other hand, there are some people who walk away from Omelas as they find the truth about the situation too painful to reconcile with.