There but for the grace of God go I. We have all heard these words. It is believed that they come from a sixteenth-century statement by John Bradford who stated “There but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford”. He made the statement with regard to a group of prisoners who were being led to execution. The statement is often an expression of humility. In using it, a speaker acknowledges that factors outside his control (God’s grace) have impacted the fact that he has avoided a particular misfortune in life.
Having practiced as a bankruptcy attorney for almost thirty (30) years, I often meet with people who have experienced some sort of significant setback that has resulted in them not being able to pay their bills as they become due. It may have been a serious illness, job loss, divorce or other life altering event; but they end up in my office to deal with the financial aftermath. While meeting with them, I often think to myself “there but for the grace of God go I”.
You see, the vast majority of these people are very good folks who have simply had something bad happen to them. Nobody wants to imagine that they may one day need to consider bankruptcy but many do. Some of us, in fact, think negative thoughts about someone who seeks bankruptcy protection. Without knowing all of the facts, we perceive the person who can’t pay his bills as a deadbeat or untrustworthy. This is unfair. We shouldn’t judge someone else without first having walked a mile in their shoes. To make judgment without knowing all of the facts is simply unfair.
I chose to write on this topic today partly because of recent postings I have seen on social media. There have been postings about two celebrities from completely different backgrounds who have used bankruptcy to deal with financial challenges. The reactions have been vastly different.
In one instance, Rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson filed for bankruptcy to deal with a substantial verdict that a jury had awarded against him. Based upon the very limited and often inaccurate facts, many people have villainized Mr. Jackson for his bankruptcy filing.
Others have posted about Republican Party presidential candidate Donald Trump who has unabashedly utilized bankruptcy for some of his business interests (Trump has never filed personal bankruptcy) to gain a competitive advantage. Trump’s use of the bankruptcy system has been celebrated by some people as evidence of his skill as a master negotiator and successful businessman.
I cite the two situations above to demonstrate that one’s personal background and preconceived notions can impact their views of individuals who have sought bankruptcy relief. Yet most know very little about either individual or their reasons for having turned to bankruptcy. Having represented many hundreds of people who have sought bankruptcy relief over the years, I can state without reservation that each situation is completely different. People have been lead to bankruptcy court for a myriad of different reasons – many of which are beyond their control and not evident to the casual observer. So instead of judging people who seek bankruptcy protection, I urge people to remember that “there but for the grace of God go I”.