Let’s talk about blame

Let's talk about blame : : Rachel Wolf : : www.lusaorganics.typepad.com
When Lupine was a toddler I was buying pumpkins from a neighbor's porch. We parked across the road, bought our pumpkins, and carefully crossed to load them in the car. And as I opened the trunk to load up our purchase the woman we were visiting shouted.
I looked up to see Lupine run into the road, directly in front of a car.
The driver slammed on their brakes and thankfully she didn't get hit. Had he been distracted by his phone or his thoughts the situation could have ended much, much differently. I was shaking for hours. 
But let's pretend (awful as it is) that he did hit her, just for the sake of discussion. And then let's pretend – God forbid – that she died, all because I looked away for an instant. What would happen next?
I know in no uncertain terms what I would be doing. I would be blaming myself. For the rest of my life. I would be destroyed that something happened on my watch and to someone who means so much to me. And out in the larger universe there would be articles about it posted online. With comments. (We all know what the comments would say.)
Victim-blaming, parent-shaming, and all manner of vitriol would be spewed by otherwise good people from behind the shield of their keyboards.
The comments would confirm my deepest fears. That I am a terrible mother. That it was all my fault. "Where were her parents?" they would say. "That would never happen to us."
Why do we blame?
We blame because the frightening reality is that it could happen to us. Whether it's a bullet or a gorilla or an alligator – it could be any of us.
Because there are no guarantees, terrifying as that is. And more than anything we want guarantees so that we can feel safe as we send our loved ones out into the world.  
Blaming gives us that. It separates us from the things we fear, held at arm's length by our pointing fingers.
But blame is a false protection. It does not insulate us from terrible things – it only removes our empathy and compassion in the moments it is needed most.
Because at the root of blame, I believe, is fear. And somehow if feels better to point fingers and shout angry words than to risk letting in the idea that something unspeakable could happen to our babies, too.
So instead of saying "where were the parents?!" or "what did they expect?" or "that's what happens when you live in a neighborhood like that" let's breathe into our own vulnerability and acknowledge that something terrible and tragic has happened that we wouldn't wish upon anyone.
And that it could have been us.
And then let's dole out compassion and empathy in place of blame. 
In life there are no guarantees. And blaming others does not make our lives safer. It only makes the world less kind. 

10 thoughts on “Let’s talk about blame

  1. Robin Harris says:

    I’ve been there, too. When our oldest was walking across the street with me. She was holding on to the stroller that her little sister was riding in. As we started to walk across, she suddenly let go and started to RUN across. I SCREAMED her name and she stopped instantly. Another step or two would have taken her under the back tire of a pick-up truck. And I shook for a long time afterwards. And I find it horrible that people feel the need to BLAME someone. WHY? It’s terrible and it happened, and blame just makes it SO much worse. People need comfort, not blame. Thank you for your article.

  2. Puck says:

    Oooooooh how I wish I could invite you over for a cuppa and a long wonderful chat. As always, lovely insight and lovely prose. Thank you. Xxx

  3. Lisa Misc says:

    Rachel, I completely agree with everything you said here. A few years ago, a woman was injured on our commuter train when a crossing mechanism malfunctioned and a piece of metal pierced the vestibule where she was standing. I will never forget that some fellow commuters said she wouldn’t have been hurt if she’d been sitting down in one of the cars like they were. Never mind that dozens of people stand in the vestibules on every single train and no one could have predicted that freak accident. Their blame was really just a way of reassuring themselves that they couldn’t be hurt. Except we could all be hurt at any time, any day. The better way to deal with that fact (though sometimes very difficult) is not to try to separate ourselves from others, but to feel and express compassion. Thank you for this.

  4. Charissa says:

    Another well-written, thought-provoking, positive post. I so appreciate your blog, Rachel. You open our eyes to different ways of looking at the world and in so doing you help bring a little more peace and kindness to this planet. Thank you.

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