Counterclockwise

The power of possibility.

Blaming the Victim

Beliefs and behavior always make some kind of sense

When I give lectures around my book, Counterclockwise, not infrequently someone will ask whether the idea I'm espousing--that we have far more control over our illnesses than most of us realize--inevitably leads to blaming the victim. Their reasoning must be that if we can control either the severity of our symptoms or the entire disease process, than those who suffer are suffering by their own hands since they did nothing to help themselves. This understanding couldn't be further from the truth.

We have been explicitly and implicitly taught by our culture to be mindless. We have been taught absolutes when none really exist independent of context. When we think we know something absolutely, we have learned that it is reasonable never to question it, nor to pay attention to how it may be otherwise. Beliefs and behavior always make some kind of sense from the actor's perspective or else the actor would have done otherwise. Blame suggests mindlessness on the part of the blamer who does not recognize this. We are not at fault for what we do not know just because someone else can see a way we could have known it.

If we can avoid blaming the victim, we won't waste time lost in the past, Instead we can learn to know now. Greater health and well being will follow if we do.

 

Ellen Langer is a professor in the Psychology Department at Harvard University.

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