In an attempt to assess the patterns that I’m noticing in our communities around victim blaming, I interrupted my typical pattern of thinking and got curious.
I got curious about how so many people could respond to a report of a child being raped by two adult males with blaming that child. So many of the responses to the article included rationalizing, minimizing, and justifying the actions of the adult males.
Only minutes prior to reading these comments, I was listening to stories from a friend about the victim blaming happening in a nearby political organization. Reports of abuse and bullying were being met with the same rationalizing, minimizing, and justifying the actions of those doing the bullying and abusing.
How is it that community members and community leaders alike are capable of and actively responding in ways that are so harmful?
Earlier today, I was listening to Brene Brown’s audiobook Rising Strong. In her book, she was talking about her struggle and eventual awakening in seeing people, in general, as doing the best that they can.
Incorporating this concept into what I was trying to process about the members of my community who are participating in such harmful behaviors, I decided to suspend my judgement and anger and get curious instead.
If the people who are behaving in this way are truly doing the best they can, why are they responding by blaming people, even children, for the harm done to them?
What I was able to come up with is this: people are hurting. The community members have either been harmed themselves or they’ve been witness to others being harmed.
In general, in our culture, we aren’t taught to work through pain in healthy ways. From my experience, and from what I have seen around me, people are taught that it is easier to push down the pain that we’re feeling if we minimize, rationalize, and justify what happened to us and to the ones we love. And pushing down the pain feels safer than accepting the pain and working through it.
We’ve all heard the statements-- “oh, it’s not that bad. Suck it up.” Or “he didn’t mean it that way. Just let it go.” Or “don’t be a baby.” I could go on and on. These kinds of statements dismiss the experiences and very real pain that we’re feeling.
When children are taught to “suck it up” or “let it go,” they often interpret that to mean that what they are feeling isn’t valid and that there must be something wrong with them to feel that way.
So what happens when an entire community of children, who are being taught to deal with their pain in this way, grow up? They grow up to not only minimize, rationalize, and justify the harm done to them, but they also teach their children to do the same. And they learn that it is easier to apply this same concept to everyone around them, thereby dismissing the pain of even people they love.
Many will also grow up and cause harm to others in an unconscious attempt to relieve the pain they were never taught to deal with. This also feels safer to rationalize, minimize, and justify than it does to take accountability for causing harm to others.
So that leaves us with a whole lot of people who are hurting and very few people who know how to work through that pain in healthy ways.
As long as we, as a society, continue to allow ourselves and those around us to rationalize, minimize, and justify the harm being done to anyone, we will continue this very unhealthy cycle.
If we want to put an end to this horrendous cycle, we must hold ourselves and one another accountable for working through our pain in healthier ways. We must not teach others, especially children, to blame themselves for the harm they’ve experienced. Instead, we must hold those causing harm accountable for their actions. We must stop the victim blaming.
We all have to learn to do the very uncomfortable and very difficult task of working through the pain by facing the truth. We cannot continue to use these harmful tactics to distract and cope with the pain. And although it feels scary and overwhelming, we are capable of making this shift. It is possible for us to learn new ways of facing our experiences and our pain.
My hope is that in writing and sharing my perspective on this, we can start to bridge the gap between us and start to see the very real shared experience of hurting.
I hope that we can come together to make real changes to how we operate as a society.
My hope is that this can start a conversation that helps us all see one another without judgment but with empathy and compassion instead.