Who is really to blame?

Written by Sylvia Fuerstenberg, former executive director, The Arc of King County

I’ve been contemplating the idea of blame recently, and it really troubles me. Why do we point the finger in blame at someone when we know better?

  •  We blame parents of children with autism for not controlling their children’s behavior, when we KNOW better that this is a neurological disorder of the brain.
  •  We blame people with mental illness for their behavior when we know that this TOO is a disorder of the brain.
  • We blame the poor for not working hard enough, when we know the working poor in this country are often working too many hours and are barely compensated enough to even pass the poverty line.

Why does this pattern of blame for the individual permeate our society when we clearly know better?

Perhaps we are afraid of losing control ourselves, or maybe we are afraid we can’t really help. I worry that our quickness to blame comes from our desire to avoid personal responsibility. Perhaps we are grasping for answers that won’t make us look at our own role in creating the system. Maybe we have no role models for accepting our own complicity in problems.  All too often, the role models we see in the news, in popular culture, and in politics point the finger at individuals to blame, and then we simply believe them.   

What if our role models took responsibility and admitted their own role in perpetuating falsehoods about others? What if our role models worked together to solve problems and helped others instead of blaming? 

What if we decided to be our own role models? Can you imagine what could happen if we all looked at the systemic issues of our society rather than the misguided untruths that individual shortcomings alone are the reasons for our failings?

The next time you find yourself putting blame on the parents of a child who is misbehaving, or on the person using the WIC card at the grocery store, I hope you will consider asking yourself this instead: What can I do to make it better right now? My guess is that an understanding smile, instead of a disapproving stare, will go a long way to improving lives. It is a small thing, but it is a start. 

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