Yesterday, I got to thinking after I said in the post, “I also have never thought, “I wonder if cancer is the one in the right here.”
But… Have I?
I’m sort of making the argument that we should treat abuse victims like people suffering from diseases – show more compassion and empathy.
But do we show compassion and empathy to people with diseases?
How many millions of times have I said “my heart problem was congenital?” It say it probably about every single time I mention it – because I am making the assumption that if I don’t say it was congenital, that people’s first thought will be that I had to have open-heart surgery because I clogged my own arteries by eating a bunch of crap.
Have you ever heard anyone react to lung cancer by saying someone “shouldn’t have smoked all these years?”
I’ve certainly heard tales of people with diabetes being judged.
And where are the lines of empathy and personal responsibility?
Personal responsibility is good. But also, a lot of times there are underlying factors. Maybe people developed diseases for reasons other than obesity or drugs, etc.
Or maybe they were obese. But maybe they’re obese because they came from a life of poverty, living in a food dessert with little access to fresh foods. Maybe their parents instilled bad eating habits in them (they were kids who didn’t know better, come on). And they couldn’t undo the damage in time.
I’m not saying we should explain away all behaviors all the time, but there is more to life than the tiny piece of the picture we have.
I wouldn’t excuse someone of a crime because of a tragic backstory, so it excusing any hardships the face the same thing?
Also, getting away from these big open-ended questions for a second, I think one of the reasons that sometimes we even reach to blame people for things they didn’t really do to themselves (e.g. for happening to be out on the road when a drunk driver was too), is because we want to believe we will always be safe.
“Well, I wouldn’t have gone home with that person…”
“Well, I wouldn’t have smoked…”
“Well, I wouldn’t have slept in. So, I would’ve been on the road earlier and avoided the crash.”
And on and on and on and on.
[Side note: Sometimes irresponsibility actually saves your life – not often. But every once in a while. For instance, think of people who missed their flights on September 11. So, for everyone who thinks they’re absolutely perfect and would never sleep in, or do other various “irresponsible” things… That still won’t always save your life.]
I think this is sort of the same reason some people in trouble in Texas are being blamed. People are saying, “I would’ve evacuated! If they’re in need of rescue now, it’s their own fault!”
But… would you have? Could you have?
There’ve been natural disasters in the past where people have died while trying to evacuate. The traffic became too much and they couldn’t get out.
Also, many people don’t have the money to evacuate. Or maybe they have a disability which makes it harder. There are so many reasons why it doesn’t seem feasible – or even smart – for some to evacuate. But as soon as those people are in trouble, we don’t always look at it as “I’m sure they weighed options and did the best they could.” Once we see the result wasn’t good and can Monday morning quarterback from the safety of our homes, it’s like, “Well, I would’ve done it differently.”
Would you have?
I worry so much about whether we’re empathetic enough to abuse victims… But are we all that different from victims of other things? On the one hand, I guess, in some weird way it’s comforting… It’s comforting to think people are just judgmental, period. It feels less like a personal failure that I can’t live up to the idea in people’s minds of how we avoid bad situations…
But on the other hand, how yucky does it feel to think of all the things we don’t show empathy for?
I don’t know what the answers are. We don’t wanna show so much empathy that we let people take advantage of us, or never take responsibility for things they do. But we also can’t live in a world where we pretend various factors never play into other things and everything exists in a vacuum.
Sometimes, as much as I hate to admit it, it hurts to see certain kinds of empathy. When people were so empathetic to an athlete who committed rape (and even had witnesses attest to that), and people felt so bad he was “losing his future” (as though we didn’t also care about the future of the girl), that kinda hurt.
So, what? Is empathy only okay if it’s someone on “my team”? Someone I can identify with? That doesn’t seem right either.
I don’t really know the answers to these questions. I’m not even positive I made sense in this post, or made a giant point… These are just the things that rattled around in my brain today.