I’ve been thinking about personal accountability in the face of a crisis that doesn’t seem to be of my making. It’s easy to avoid it and cast blame. I think the need to blame comes from having no entitlement to be angry or sad or scared. In my head I’m not allowed to feel or express those emotions, but they contain a lot of energy which makes me immensely uncomfortable. I instinctively want to find a way to let it out. Blaming will do it.
It’s awfully satisfying, makes me feel very powerful and righteous, but alas it’s counterproductive and destructive.
I’ve learned the difficult lesson that when I’m pointing a finger at somebody else to their face and saying it’s all their fault, it always means I have something going on inside of me I either don’t want to acknowledge or don’t know how to.
That was a hard crossroads for me to even approach, let alone get through. It seems everything in our social conditioning says we only have value if we’re good and right, if we make money, have successful careers, are successful parents, wives, husbands, children, teachers, you name it. That imperative is so powerful that it drives us to go to massive lengths to pretend, if we somehow miss the mark.
The weird thing is, all of us miss the mark in some way or another, I really believe that. It may not look like it from the outside, but I think that’s more the result of how well we pretend to ourselves and each other that we’re just fine. When we hit the skids, we’re faced with the inescapable truth – I’m not fine. The acknowledgment is so painful and scary that instinctively we lash out wherever we can – anything to not let that truth come any closer.
It wasn’t my fault.
I’ve watched this dynamic play out in my own life, and also see it playing out on a larger, societal scale. Yesterday I wrote an article about Arizona’s new immigration law – which gives Arizona police the right to search Mexican-looking people and demand to see proof that they are in the country legally. My beef isn’t with immigration laws per se (although I’m not altogether sure they’re a good thing), it’s with the anger and prejudice that seems to have generated this law. Given that those emotions run very high in Arizona, and that certain groups seem to be pointing fingers relentlessly and remorselessly at Mexicans for a lot of Arizona’s problems, the law is going to provide official justification for abuse.
I understand that foreigners coming illegally into a country can compound the problems of employment and possibly even crime. Possibly, I say, with a great deal of reservation. But when those illegal immigrants are used as cheap labor, possibly even by the people pointing fingers at them I start wondering what’s really going on.
This looks like racial prejudice to me, and a total unwillingness on the part of some to look at what part they are playing in the problems they are facing, because it takes two to create a crisis. If I’m disempowered and I get overpowered by a bully, I contribute to my situation. It also looks like the same kind of racial prejudice that the South African apartheid government used to justify its intolerable abuses of human rights.
In South Africa right now there’s a lot of violent child rape. All of it is being done by men. Does that mean that all men are bad? Of course not. Does it give the police the right to stop all men and question them? No it doesn’t. A lot of Catholic priests are pedophiles and rape and sexually abuse children. Does that mean all Catholic priests are bad men? No it doesn’t.
But it’s easier to say all men, or all Catholic priests, are the problem than to say that within the grouping of “men” and “priests” some are good and some are bad. Even harder is to acknowledge that parents aren’t looking after their children properly or the society has problems which make the children vulnerable to these predators. The only healthy and sustainable solution is to deal with the individuals who commit the crimes, and to acknowledge and repair the children’s vulnerability, and stay right away from any kind of neurotic justification that allows one party to walk away from the part it’s been playing and try to force the other party to take all the blame.
It takes two to tango.
In South Africa, a lot of Blacks are committing hideous crimes of sexual abuse and murder, robbery, you name it. Does that mean that all Blacks are criminals? The idea is completely absurd. A lot of white businessmen are sharks and criminals in their own right. Does that make all businessmen bad? No. A lot of mothers abuse their children. So then let’s chuck out all mothers. A lot of white businessmen are sharks and criminals in their own right. Does that make all businessmen bad? No. A lot of mothers abuse their children. So then let’s chuck out all mothers. You can target any group you like and find a reason to justify your prejudice against them, and your desire to hurt them. And you’re not going to look at how many people within your category don’t actually fit the profile at all.
I’m not saying the people in Arizona don’t have a very challenging and nightmare situation to deal with. Clearly they do and they deserve compassion and protection as much as anybody else does. But if they are complaining about a criminal element and unemployment, then let them look to the specific people, and stop blaming the race. In any case do their problems give them the right to take away other people’s rights en masse? People who in fact are American, not Mexican any more? And where do you draw the line once you’ve said this law is okay? A precedent is set. Who’s going to be next? Men? Women? Priests? Mothers? Businessmen?
I believe that a law like Arizona’s generates more anger and fear, more intolerance, gives official justification for more abuse. It hasn’t, by the way, as far as I can tell, received the official nod from the Federal Government yet. Perhaps it won’t ever. I really wish for all the people of Arizona, no matter what their origin and race, that a healthier solution can be sought for all the real problems they are facing. a peaceable solution that is about mutual accountability and respect.
I’m going to shut up now.
Oh, except to say that the article I wrote on SearchWarp is here (click on the link).