I promise to get back to reviews eventually, but this topic is something that has bothered me for a long time. It particularly bothers me when I read the comments (yes, my first mistake) on news articles.
You know the type – “Serves him right”; “I would never do that”; “Who does that?”; “What an idiot”; etc. Then there are far more cruel comments, usually directed at surviving family members, that hint that their loved one (who is either dead or severely injured, physically or mentally, by now) was stupid and did not deserved to be mourned. We forget that we ourselves are all only a few steps away from having our demise turned into a cautionary tale – or a joke’s punchline.
Almost as soon as a tragic event has occurred, there is a human need to distance ourselves from it. We might be fascinated by the event itself, but we have to believe that it could not happen to us. We all seem to have a need to think that we would not have shared the same fate: we would have been better prepared, we would have not gone to that place, we would not have trusted that person, or we would have simply got out of the situation faster.
It is understandable that we want to distance ourselves from danger and disaster. To admit that we are just as susceptible to misfortune – up to and including death – as the next person is to admit that we have little ultimate control over our lives. Instead, we want to believe that the actions of a victim are what led him or her to doom, and conversely, that our own actions are what keep us from the same fate.
We can see the problems with this logic easily enough when an accident is a random event. For example, a drunk driver swerves onto the sidewalk beside a bus stop and hits the closest person waiting there. Clearly, the fault lies squarely with the driver, not the person on the sidewalk. The other people at the bus stop were not spared because they had any extra common sense or better character, but because they were farther away from the driver and thus had a fraction of a second longer to react than the victim did. None of them had any prior knowledge that would spare them. If the driver had been going faster or swerved a second longer, other pedestrians would likely have been hit as well. If the driver had been soberly driving in his or her proper lane on the road, the victim would be at a safe distance away. Regardless, it is clear that the victim is not to blame. We cannot help but have sympathy for them and their loved ones.
But if there is no drunk driver to blame, and instead the victim is brought down by something somewhat of his or her own making, we take away our sympathy and instead ridicule them. When a tragedy is partially due to the victim’s own fault, we somehow have come to believe that our sympathies should be less.
They should not be.
No matter the stupidity of their actions, the victim is paying dearly for them. How often have we done similarly risky or illogical things, or even the same thing, and not suffered such harsh consequences? Did we survive because we were somehow stronger or smarter? Or just luckier? [And if so, isn’t their being weaker or less intelligent something that only adds to the tragedy and we should be more sympathetic?] And if we are just luckier, it that because we were saved for something?
Take falling, for example. It is actually one of the leading causes of death. Sometimes, the fall itself kills, but just as often the fall causes major internal injury and brain damage, or causes infection – particularly in the elderly. Unless a person is pushed or tripped, there is rarely another person directly responsible for their fall.
While some (such as myself) are more clumsy than others, everyone has fallen at one time or another. Was it because of our own actions? Were we not being careful? Were we intentionally in a risky situation, such as rock-climbing? Was there something unforeseen in our path, like a banana peel? Did someone trip us?
What is the response to the situation? “Be more careful next time.” “Why did you go rock-climbing in the first place? You know how dangerous it is.” “Watch where you put your feet.” “Oops, I’m sorry.” Or just a lot of laughter.
We don’t want to think that it could be us. With the exception of avoiding situations like rock-climbing, there is actually little we can do to control our susceptibility to falls. Being careful only goes so far.
When someone dies because of a fall, it ultimately does not matter how they fell, or whether they were careful or not. They are still gone. Their loved ones are still grieving – and it does not help to tell them that their spouse, child, parent, or friend was an careless idiot, even if that could be said to be true.
Tragedy is tragedy. We are all only a few steps away from it. Whether or not you believe in any higher power, we have little control over when disaster strikes. We should do our best, but ultimately, we can only hope that we can get out of the way of a swerving drunk driver, or be able to grab hold of a railing and keep our head up next time we slip and fall on icy steps. And we can hope that if we cannot do these things, that we do not end up a punchline.
Oy! I really hope to get back to lighthearted reviews soon!