This week, Rick (me) spoke about the human tendency to blame the victim. In researching this, three areas of study have emerged.
(1) The "you could have tried harder" hypothesis. This type of blaming the victim is known to occur in rape and sexual assault cases, where the victim of the crime is often accused of inviting the attack due to her clothing or behavior. This is also where authoritarians blame the people they wish to discriminate against... you have undoubtedly heard the argument "those people come here and don't even try to learn English."
(2) Fundamental Attribution Errors. This bias involves attributing other people’s behaviors to internal, personal characteristics and ignore external forces and variables that also might have played a role. This is where poor people are blamed for doing poorly in school when they live in a place where they are underfed or where they fear violence in their neighborhood.
(3) The "Just World" hypothesis. This is the idea that people deserve what happens to them. There’s a really strong need to believe that we all deserve our outcomes and consequences. People with a belief in an interventionist God may even believe that a person undergoing distress was intentionally chosen for that distress by God.
Thoughtful consideration of this topic is made more difficult because we do know that actions have consequences. How many of us have been to the funeral of a victim of a heart-attack ...knowing that the person didn't exercise much. You may very well have been thinking that you exercise more than that person did. That is a very subtle form of blaming the victim. When you say "everything happens for a reason" are you saying it because you think there is a silver lining in this bad situation or are you saying it because you think the bad thing has happened to THAT person because THAT person isn't careful (I on the other hand. am careful.) You may be indulging in a little of the blaming the victim too.
Bad things can and probably will happen to you at some point in your life. So the next time you find yourself wondering what someone else did to bring on their misfortune, take a moment to consider the psychological attributions and biases that affect your judgment. Rather than blame the victim, try putting yourself in that person’s shoes and perhaps try a little empathy instead. Above all, listen, their story may be much more compelling and interesting than the one playing out in your head.
Hey everybody, remember you are welcome to come and listen in to our discussions any Sunday. Really try to come on Jan 20, Martin Luther King Sunday, because we are going to have a veteran of the Selma march tell us what it was like being there at one of the most important moments in civil rights history. And, since this country is at its core a country that has always struggled with the rights of man v.s. the rights of society at large, it was one of the most important moments in the history of this nation. Don't miss it.