This is a complicated topic. I think I’ve re-written this piece three or four times now and I’m never sure that I am able to make the message clear.
I need to start by saying that, we all do this. I also need to say that deep in our psyche, because we are parents (who used to be kids-raised by parents) we are utterly helpless in avoiding doing this to our own children.
As adults who have hopefully transcended a bit toward a broader view of the world, we need to see ourselves in the words I’m writing and make some adjustments. Adjustments to how we speak in front of, and to, our children because sometimes, the rules are just not going to apply.
Morality and ethics are among the most important things we gift our children with. From the time they are babies, we encourage the behaviors that will help our kids be successful out in the world such as, how to be social and make friends or to share and take turns. To sum it up, the surest way to stay safe and never get into trouble is to follow the rules.
Enter stage left…The Just World Bias.
The world is just and people get what they deserve. (Or, if you are doing the right things, nothing bad will happen to you. If you are doing the wrong things, you will be punished/scorned/gossiped about/ etc)
We are taught (and need to believe) that there is order to the world, and that good behavior is rewarded and bad behavior is punished.
When the world is perfect and all things align, that thought works. The majority of the time, it is a narrow and inaccurate ideal to promote. Here is why…
Ponder this thought. Classroom children are in a single file line, going down the stairs, when a kid trips over his shoelace. As he is falling forward, he knocks over three other classmates and all four of them end up in a heap at the bottom of the stairs. All the children are crying.
Scenario continued: You are a parent of one of the children who got knocked over by “shoe lace kid”. You don’t like that your child got hurt but you know… accidents happen. No big deal, all is well. Easy, right?
Now, add THIS: Same scenario as above but, upon your arrival to school, and the subsequent conversations with the other parents involved (parents of the other victims) you find out that “Little Johnny- who is ALWAYS wearing shoes that are too big and untied” is the epicenter of this scary and hazardous fall.
Is it that easy to be nice-and logical- then?
If you are an honest person, your answer is NOOOOOO. Even the most logical and level headed parent-at that moment- thinks to themselves “His shoes are ALWAYS UNTIED! Accident waiting to happen! Have his parents not heard of Velcro? I mean, really!! Just get the kid some slip ons!” Subliminally, and without even realizing it, that kid is never looked at the same again.
You know you’ve done it. I’ve done it. That little kid, who DID NOTHING WRONG is now in a place of blame. Of judgement. Of finger pointing. You are now-blaming the victim. This is the Just World Bias.
At times like these we don’t even know we are blaming the victim. It’s a fact, his shoe was untied, causing the fall. We have a POINT!
No, you really don’t. Bad things happen to good people.Your empathy for his suffering is overshadowed by the fact YOU THINK he MIGHT have caused the problem.
I can’t even write that enough times: YOUR EMPATHY FOR ANOTHER PERSON’S SUFFERING IS OVERSHADOWED BY THE FACT THAT YOU HAVE A POINT…
Switching from kids to grown-ups now…
Adults decide who becomes their friend based on things like how loyal they are, how kind, how fun, because they have common interests. We decide that based on these qualities……our friend is “good enough to hang out with the likes of us.”
You and your friend have years of great conversation, connections, support, and laughter. Then, comes a random (or not random) series of events where your friend is a victim of something traumatizing. Something scary. Something that is persistent for years.
At first you support them because he/she is your friend. But if the events are prolonged, and rumors keep spreading, we begin to wonder…how can this person— that we have JUDGED to be a good person—have all these traumatic things keep happening to her?
Maybe…maybe…I’m not seeing everything. Maybe SHE is doing something (or things) to cause these problems.
Right there-your brain flips the switch and your ride down the slippery slope begins…
Your brain goes from addressing the very thing that traumatized someone to how they may have CAUSED the trauma. Again, the Just World Bias…aka Blaming the Victim.
The moment we lose focus of someone else’s trauma and begin to judge their character is the time when, if you believe in the teaching of Jesus or the Law of Nature, we have upset the balance of right and wrong. We have dismissed our humanity and our empathy for our righteousness. AND man oh man, do we want to be RIGHT!
The moment we are telling someone else what an embarrassment their behavior is, how stupid they are, or how despicable they are, we are forgetting the very sin we were all born with. Yep, I’m talking to you.
YOU are no better. And by speculating, gossiping, judging, and repeating negativity are in fact causing discord in the world because you have decided that someone else……does not deserve your empathy.
Well friends, the reality is bad stuff happens to people who follow the rules. People who raise good children. People who occasionally make mistakes. And, prolonged struggle in a person’s life is not indicative of poor character OR permission for your judgement.
You can decide to not be their friend. Perhaps you can’t handle the added stress. But….But….BUT… do NOT make a traumatized person more traumatized because YOU need to be heard.
It is never our place to HAVE to verbally attack someone we are struggling with. It isn’t.
Why does it happen? Because it makes you …look…better…to…yourself. Because you have JUDGED them and you are RIGHT.
This is the just world bias.
Justice is biased. The only real fact in this whole world is…This is NOT a just world, it is just a world.
Choose empathy. If you can’t, do no further harm. (Well, first admit it to yourself that your ego is huge and therefore does not have space for imperfection-much less the ability to have kindness for it, and then do no further harm meaning- just keep your mouth shut.)
My hope is… maybe we can all just do better. WANT to do better. Want to be a little more human. Maybe we can move away from judgement and toward an actually “just world” one person at a time.