La Belle Dame Sans Merci

Sometimes I wonder if consular work is making me a worse human being.

I refused a lot of visas this week, as I do every week. I denied people opportunities to go to school, to go on vacation, to visit their families, to get medical treatment. Some I refused dispassionately. Some I refused happily. Some I refused regretfully, then mentally seized and rooted out that regret as soon as I noticed its clinging tendrils creeping up around the edges of my consciousness. I am getting better at this.

It’s a defense mechanism – consular work is about implementing U.S. law, not about doing nice things for my fellow man. Sometimes the two are the same thing, but not that often around here. In the visa window you have to learn to take a step back, to not get personally involved, to not care, for your own protection. Empathy can be a liability in this job sometimes, but in normal life people who lack empathy are called psychopaths and generally considered menaces to society. That’s not really the kind of person I want to be. On the other hand, feeling guilty when I know my decision was right only serves to make me miserable, and I have more than two years of visa processing still to go. That’s time for a lot of misery, if I let it be that way.

Perhaps the optimal solution would be to turn my heart to ice every morning when I come to work and thaw it out again every evening when I leave. My office gets pretty chilly, I’ll grant you, but probably not cold enough to pull that off. Until I can get my hands on a freeze ray I’ll have to toughen up as best I can, and suffer through the occasional pang of regret in the knowledge that I haven’t gone fully over to the Dark Side yet.