News and Society

When Tragedy Strikes…


When tragedy strikes, the natural human response is to ask questions and seek answers. And so often, while in search of those answers, the tendency is to blame others or a situation for the tragedy or loss.  Assigning blame supposedly makes it easier to understand, cope and adjust to the tragedy or loss. Assigning blame also enable the people who suffered the loss to accept the consequences—or does it?

For example, let’s parse the tragic story of the three teens who lost their lives after driving a stolen vehicle into a pond. Here are quick facts: All three teens were females; all three had previous run-ins with the law; deputies pursued the stolen vehicle around 3:30 am; after a short pursuit, the driver drove the vehicle into a retention pond that was 15 feet deep; deputies on scene did not/could not assist the girls due to the thick muck; all three girls drowned.

So, who is to blame? The teens—because they were petty criminals? The teens’ parents—because they were negligent and uncaring for allowing their children to roam the streets at night and wee hours of the morning?  The deputies—because they literally stood there and watch the vehicle disappear in the murky water – displaying a callous and contemptible attitude toward black lives?

The problem with faultfinding or misplaced blame is twofold. First, misplaced blame retraumatizes everyone involved in the tragedy or loss. That is, misplaced blame creates conditions where the victim and/or those connected to the victim are forced to relive the details of the fateful event. Secondly, misplaced blame revictimizes both the victim and those connected to the victim. This is to to say that the victim and those tied to the victim are viewed as being completely at fault and must have done something to deserve the punishment or consequence of the action in question.

Possible solutions…

The focus should be on understanding how the action led to the loss of everyone involved and not on who to blame. The focus should also be on what could be done in the future to address the action. This is not to say that mistakes were not made and that mistakes should be ignored. What is being said is that when the mistake/misjudgement or the consequence(s) of the mistake is placed in the spotlight, then there is very little effort spent in asking and answering the hard questions and exploring possible solutions.

Promoting a culture of healing, tolerance, and understanding requires getting away from blame and punishment as permanent solutions. When faultfinding and blame become the primary default within a social system, people tend to become emotionally unresponsive and indifferent to social dysfunction, social injustice, and human suffering. Promoting a healthy culture and society means encouraging everyone to participate in building an economy of love—collectively seeking ways to improve and create a safer, happier, healthier and more connected community.

The takeaway here is that assigning blame on individuals without a careful evaluation of etiological factors and presenting problems, and needs assessment and intervention plan will do very little to ensure our long term health and happiness.

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