Playing the blame game is the easy choice, and we find that stance quite common throughout the USA. It is easy to stand back and point a finger, but much more difficult to empathize. In many ways empathy is a dying trait amongst the masses, and it is no wonder. We are surrounded by a barrage of inflammatory media propaganda, and represented by power hungry, self-entitled “leaders”. You do not have to look farther than your local news to see lawsuits abound. A person spills hot coffee on themselves, sues the restaurant. A woman crashes a camper because she thought “cruise control” meant she didn’t have to stay at the wheel, sues the manufacturer. Yet it is more insidious than that, and likely affects each of us in subtle and unperceived ways. The key that starts the engine of blame is judgement, and we are all judgmental. Our survival requires that we judge our environment, and the people and objects around us. It is necessary to judge where threats exist, as well as rewards. We live in a modern world where the threat to our livelihood rarely rests upon being eaten by a wild animal while we sleep fireside. In our modern world the threat is our credit score. The threat is the co-worker who wants our job. The threat is the price of gasoline and food. The threat could be also be those around us who live their lives differently than we do.
We all do it. Driving in traffic, we shrug when we cut someone else off, but when they cut us off we are enraged. We “needed” to cut them off because we were late, heading to an important place. They didn’t “need” to cut us off, where they are headed can’t be that important. Watch the faces of those in a slow line at the grocery store and you are likely to see much impatience. We see that a child is killed at a zoo by a gorilla, or eaten by an alligator, and we point the finger at the parents. Where were they? They should have been watching closer! We come up with reasons and explanations to make ourselves feel comfortable and safe. That could NEVER happen to me! That could only happen to a “bad” parent. The truth is much more horrifying, and only the strong recognize that it could happen to anyone. Accidents can happen to anyone. No matter the level of vigilance a parent employs. No matter how much they helicopter. No matter the snap-clip-leashes. No matter the cell phones. No matter the training. It is scary to admit this to ourselves, and so most do not. Instead they play the blame game.
We are less likely, on the other hand, to blame a parent for a child suffering from drug addiction or alcoholism. It is commonly understood that no matter how “good” a parent is, their child could become addicted to alcohol or drugs. Perhaps the reason many are so quick to blame the parent of the child killed by the gorilla, is because the situation is atypical. Drug addiction is common. Being killed by a gorilla at a zoo is rare. Or maybe the blame game results from the level of fear invoked at the thought of a child being killed so near, yet beyond the parents’ control. It is a horrifying thought, but perhaps one we should all entertain. There is comfort in simply writing it off, saying that it couldn’t happen to us. Maybe the stronger route would be to think about that very thing happening to us.
We must also wonder why people are so quick to blame the parents of a child suffering from undiagnosed mental illness. Mental illness, much like drug addiction or alcoholism, is commonly understood to affect children no matter how “good” a parent is. Again, maybe the level of fear invoked at the thought is too much for many to handle. Think for a moment what it would be like if – no matter how closely you watched your child, involved yourself in their life, and loved them – your child suffered from schizophrenia, without your knowledge, and they hurt someone as a result of it. What a terrifying thought, right? This is a thought that many cannot handle, and so they cannot empathize if they cannot visualize themselves in those shoes, and instead they judge. What we also see, time and time again, are those who once believed something horrible could never happen to them, until it did. We are not suggesting that you spend a great deal of time focusing on the negative outcomes that could befall you, or your loved ones. Rather, that those potentialities be explored as realistic possibilities, and as such lend to a greater level of understanding. The key to the engine of understanding is empathy. Take a moment today and empathize for a few minutes.
“It is difficult for a fool’s habits to change to selflessness…Because we do most things relying only on our own sagacity we become self-interested, turn our backs on reason,
and things do not turn out well.”
~ Yamamoto Tsunetomo