Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Fear and Blame--Part 1

Fear and Blame like to spend time together. They make a good couple. Fear opens the door, Blame walks in. Fear washes the dishes, and Blame dries and puts them away. Fear leaves the toilet seat up, and Blame yells at him for it.

The first time I cried about my diagnosis wasn't when I heard about it. It wasn't after reading all the gory statistics. It wasn't even after knowing the awful treatments I was going to have to endure. The first time I cried was when my breast surgeon, in the midst of my office visit, leaned forward, looked me in the eye while gently touching my knee, and said,"You didn't do anything to cause this. It's not your fault that you have breast cancer."

My strong facade immediately crumbled and I was reduced to tears. She had hit a nerve. Without fully realizing it, I had been carrying around the slight suspicion that if I ate better, worked out more, and took more vitamins that I somehow could have avoided all this--that somehow I was getting what I deserved for eating too many chocolate chip cookies and having a daily soda.

It's a ludicrous idea, but it was still there, buried in what I thought was my relatively, well-adjusted brain.

I have come to view blame as a futile attempt to exert control over chaos. Attempting to find the reason something happens makes us feel as if there is something we could have done to prevent it, or something we might do in the future to prevent it from occurring again. Blame follows on the heels of discovered information, similar to cause and effect. Understanding cause and effect is a natural occurrence, and useful in everyday life. I place a kitchen towel on the burner before it's cooled off completely, and I learn that towels make a lot of smoke when they are on fire.

Cause and effect.

Yet, blame goes beyond cause and effect. Blame assumes a neglected responsibility or diligence. It places the burden upon you and your dirty, rotten, thoughtless ways...now go stand in a corner and don't come out until I say so.


It releases those who wield it from the randomness of life, and gives them a target for their pent-up frustrations. It binds its recipient to shame and self-loathing. If you blame yourself, you're in an endless cycle of self-recrimination with yourself--good cop, bad cop constantly playing out in your head while you also sit across the interrogation table as the criminal. Psycho-therapy? Yes, please.

My oldest son, The Rationalist, is a very black and white child. There is a reason for everything in his universe. The immutable laws of nature have declared it to be so, so it must be so. It works out very well for him academically, but it really impairs his understanding of social interaction and the concept of Occam's razor :"All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best." The other day, he told me there was a ghost in his room. My curiosity piqued, I had to ask for an elaboration.

"Why do you think there's a ghost in your room?'

"Every time I come in here, my Battle Bot is on, but I didn't turn it on."

"Well...maybe you turned it on and just forgot."

"No....I didn't...it had to be a ghost!"

"Maybe your brother turned it on."

"No, he doesn't play in here."

"He was just playing in here an hour ago."

"Still....I know it wasn't him. It happens all the time."


"Do you really think there is a ghost that comes into your room, turns on your Battle Bot, and then leaves?"


"But why would a ghost do that?"

"Just to make me mad."

I usually have to stop myself from laughing at these conversations because if he thinks I'm not taking him seriously, it infuriates him.

This conversation is a good illustration of the usefulness of blame. When directed outwards, it relieves us from the inexplicable things we don't understand, or are irritated by. It makes us feel like we have a handle on things, even if we are as off-base as my son with his mischievous ghostly encounter.

I'm not going to blame myself for what's happening. I'm not going to blame God for what's happening. Either position would supply me with a reason for what's happening, and make me feel as if there was some sort of control that I might wield over my life, but really it would be nothing more than an illusion which fulfills one purpose, while undercutting essential parts of myself.

more later.

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