Monday, September 24, 2012

When the Unthinkable Happens: The Search for a Scapegoat

When The Unthinkable Happens

“The search for a scapegoat is the easiest of all hunting expeditions.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower

In the course of things, there are instances when communities find themselves faced with horrors of loss or cruelty that we can’t understand, even after all the investigations, criminal, civil, and treatment options have run their course.  These become the circumstances burned into our collective hearts by which we measure and judge our ultimate vulnerability as well as our resilience as individuals and as a community.  

Being faced with a situation that can’t be comprehended can send individuals as well as groups of people into a frenzied search to identify and highlight the differences between the “evil” of “the other guilty person” and the “moral high ground” of our own familiar lives and values.   

Scapegoating in various forms is a widely practiced solution that effectively restores a sense of contentment and predictability to the world when it seems overwhelmed by evil.  Unfortunately it stifles productive self reflection and does nothing to heal the grief and anguish both individuals and the community rightfully feel when innocence is horribly lost.  

Reading down through the comments that follow articles about these sorts of incidents, it is easy to interpret parts of the string as a focused attempt to find someone to blame, to gloss over and trivialize their struggles, their dreams and challenges, to dehumanize and marginalize them.  It leaves them to suffer judgments they can’t even fathom, ultimately making sure someone pays for these sins regardless of the degree to which they might be accountable.  

With fictional user names, the comment section easily becomes the modern equivalent of a masked mob, gathering in the night with torches and pitchforks, looking to dehumanize and punish anyone upon whom they can focus the sins of the day, anyone.  

To blame without fully understanding a circumstance is unsophisticated, unkind, unhelpful, and unnecessary.  Human behavior is complicated and multiply determined.  Simple pronouncements of either blame or blamelessness always do a disservice to the truth.  

We empower our courts and our governmental agencies to sort through the complexities of these situations and to do their best to come to a resolution that preserves the order and values of our culture.  They do this for us, as our representatives.    For the rest of us, let’s try sitting with not knowing, with grief and anguish for the layers of loss suffered by our neighbors. 
Try compassion and personal incomprehension.  Resist drifting into the comfort of enraged blame.  Encourage the people around you to do the same.  It doesn’t offer the same comfort as being able to “close the book” on the situation, but it will leave you a beacon of fairness, truth, and justice in a world already too full of dehumanizing hatred.