The concept of basic principles is foreign to too many

This one’s a doozy. From r/AITA, “AITA for breaking into my MIL’s bedroom?

Throwaway cause some of my in-laws use reddit. We are pregnant with our rainbow baby and we couldn’t be happier. On Friday we had our 12 weeks sonogram and got plenty of pictures to take home.

My MIL and FIL came to visit so they could see them and, eventually, the pictures disappeared. I asked them for help to find them but they were just nowhere to be found. My MIL was pretty eager to leave and that didn’t sit well with me, after they left I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

So on Sunday we went to their place for lunch and, when I went to the bathroom, I went into their bedroom and found the pictures in her nightstand. I was fuming. We were planning to give each side of the family copies of the pictures and a framed one (and we told them), but of course she just wanted them all. I confronted her when I came back and she just said “she thought they were for her” which is clearly a lie (I asked them for help to find them for crying out loud, and was visibly upset).

It’s not the first time she pulls something like this and, while my husband defended me in front of them when she protested for my snooping, he then told me I’d crossed a line when I opened her drawers. I know it wasn’t the nicest thing to do, I regret having to stoop to her level but I was just so angry. So AITA?

Small Update: I had a talk with my husband, he apologized for “scolding” me and confessed that, ever since he was a boy, he’s been terrified of his mother’s meltdowns and does anything he can to avoid them, so my confrontation kind of triggered him. He also said that he’s realised that some things like me and our baby will always come first.

He’s willing to go to therapy to learn how to establish and maintain strong boundaries with his mom, so we’ll see how it goes. Thanks everyone for your kind opinions, even if you think I was TA (I know I was).

And unsurprisingly the result is NTA – Not the Asshole. There were some more reasonable heads in the group, though, labeling this as ESH – Everything Sucks Here. And that’s my verdict.

On the one hand, the MIL stole from her. And I want to make it abundantly and explicitly clear that I in no way defend the MIL’s actions, and nothing I say herein should be interpreted as defending, excusing, or condoning what the MIL did.

But the OP then violated MIL’s privacy by snooping around. Sure it was with the intent to recover stolen property, but that can’t justify her actions. Why not? Simple. What if she didn’t find them in the nightstand? Would she have searched the bedroom? How much of the bedroom did she search before finding them in the nightstand? Would she have searched the entire house if she didn’t find them in the bedroom?

Finding the pictures doesn’t retroactively justify the search. Let me repeat that for those in the back: finding the pictures does NOT retroactively justify the search!

It’d be one thing if the pictures were in plain sight – though the MIL was clearly smart enough to ensure they weren’t. That OP had to go searching in closed drawers to find them puts her squarely in the wrong. Again, finding the pictures doesn’t retroactively justify the search!

* * * * *

“Defending principles is extremely difficult. But necessary.”

I said those words about 7 years ago with regard to Brock Turner, or rather the aftermath of his criminal trial. And herein those words ring true once again.

When I posted the above to Facebook, the feedback was… far from supportive, to say the least. And the responses, much like the responses on the Reddit thread, all took much the same position that the theft not only justified the search, but that the OP would’ve been in the right to show up at the MIL’s house, knock on the door or even just break in, and search the entire house till she found what she was looking for. That your protection against unreasonable searches – which the OP engaged in – means only the government is so enjoined.

And anyone who believes such really needs to study up on tort law.

Yes the Fourth Amendment enjoins the government. But underpinning the rights protected by the Bill of Rights (not created by them as many assert) are base principles without which the rights wouldn’t be a valid concept. The Second Amendment comes from the basic principle of self defense, that the only legitimate violence is to counter the immediate and illegitimate violence of others. And the Fourth Amendment comes from the basic principle that a person’s home is their castle, in which they have a very reasonable expectation of privacy. Inviting someone into your home doesn’t mean the invitee can just… snoop around, regardless of their rationale.

Rights govern how the government interacts with the people, but principles govern how we interact with each other. Something enshrined in criminal and civil law.

As such, the Fourth Amendment aside, the theft doesn’t justify the search. Finding the photos in the MIL’s bedroom does not retroactively justify her actions. If her actions can’t be justified by not finding the property, finding them doesn’t automatically make her actions justified. Again, it all comes down to base principles.

Starting with the Golden Rule when I said this in several variations:

As I said, how would you like it if someone just searched your home on the mere *allegation* you took something from them, even knowing you’re completely innocent? Would you just stand by and let them do it? Or would you demand they leave and call the police if they refused?

I think we all know the answer. But! it’s also clear you also expect to be able to freely search someone else’s home on the mere allegation they took something of yours… That’s why you don’t want to acknowledge that the OP is in the wrong. How dare someone invade your privacy, but Lord forbid if someone doesn’t let you invade theirs, or dares to say you’re in the wrong for doing so…

And the person to whom I made that comment said this in reply:

This isn’t a random “someone.” This is the MIL with a history of similar behavior. Perhaps you would have like for the DIL to call the cops on MIL, and have her arrested and the property searched pursuant to that arrest and warrant?

To which I said this:

Doesn’t matter that it’s the MIL, and it doesn’t matter that MIL has a prior history of similar behavior. None of that justifies the DIL’s invasion of the MIL’s privacy.

Again, would you let your neighbor search your home on the mere allegation you stole something from them? And would you search your neighbor’s home on the mere allegation they stole something from you?

Going through the police should only be a last resort. But DIL would’ve been free to threaten to bring in the police if the MIL didn’t return what she reasonably believed she had, then actually reporting the theft to the police if she failed to return the photos. The threat of and actually filing a lawsuit is also an option.

Searching the home is not a viable option, though. What if the pictures weren’t in the bedroom? Would OP have been justified in searching the house for them? Or is only searching the bedroom reasonable merely because she was able to do so somewhat covertly?

That they ultimately were found there is immaterial in determining if OP was in the right since, again, that OP found the photos in the nightstand cannot be used to retroactively justify her actions. You have to look at her actions in the moment, not in hindsight.

Often, unfortunately, the only reasonable action when you’ve been wronged in some way – e.g. something was stolen from you – is to just walk away from it. In this instance, it would’ve been to request new copies of the sonogram and the other photos from the physician, and then just cut ties with the ILs or, at the least, make sure they never again step foot in their home.

Part of the problem we all have is this desire to see all wrongs righted. Which unto itself is perfectly fine. The devil is in the details.

Reality, though, paints a far more bleak picture. There is no righting the vast majority of wrongs. No closure for the wronged. No justice for the wrongdoer. Crimes go unsolved. Many murder victims and missing individuals are never found, or forever remain unidentified when remains are recovered. Meaning family of the missing and unidentified are left with unanswered questions.

But let’s pull back from the bleak and think of the more common ways that we are “wronged” by someone.

Easily the most common anymore is being ghosted, or disconnected or outright blocked by someone on social media, regardless of the reason. For some reason it’s common to take that as a personal affront, where the blocked individual sees it as if they were insulted to their face. And as with everything else, there are healthy and unhealthy ways to respond.

And when someone blocks you on a social media platform, the healthy thing to do, the only reasonable thing to do, in my opinion, is… just walk away from it. Accept it and move on. Don’t contact the person in any other way. And as much as you’d want closure – to know why you were blocked – just walk away from it. Leave it one of the many unanswered questions of life.

And in the above case… the sonogram and other pictures can be reprinted. And the OP can deny the ILs access to the OP’s home since she apparently has a pattern of suspect behavior.

But searching their home for the pictures was beyond unreasonable. And it’s disgusting that many readily defend her behavior.