“Human nature, when it is seeking power, wants either to play the victim or to create victims of others. In fact, the second follows from the first. Once we start feeling sorry for ourselves, we will soon find someone else to blame, accuse or attack—and with impunity! It settles the dust quickly, and it takes away any immediate shame, guilt, or anxiety. In other words, it works—at least for a while.”
-Fr. Richard Rohr
As I read Fr. Rohr’s recent Daily Meditations, I recognized the habits of shaming and blaming that are pervasive in our habits of mind and behaviors. “Scapegoating,” by any other name…is one of the most familiar ways we deal with the emotional charge of uncomfortable feelings for which we seemingly have no awareness. We therefore shame, blame, or “scapegoat” the other so that we feel better. He included a quote in one of his recent writings, from a Russian philosopher (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn) that makes this even more clear.
“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”
When we are part of a group, one with which we have chosen to identify (to “fit in”), this happens more readily since we have likely given up an essential part of ourselves in order to be accepted by the group. Sadly, the more we engage in the activities of a group like this, the more of ourselves we lose. Staying close to the essence of who we are become more and more challenging in these circumstances, because the power of the group coupled with our need to be connected to something that makes us feel accepted, overpowers our ability to choose for ourselves (the cost of belonging).
Finding out who we really are – in the depths of our being; knowing who we are is what can keep us out of these dangerous spaces. Yet, it seems that many thrive on the chaos and violence at the heart of these groups’ behaviors.
Whether it is a work group that becomes a social clique, or something larger, like the groups we have learned about since the January 6 insurrection in my country, its pretty easy to see how many people are seeking the acceptance of others…because they haven’t come to a place of full, loving acceptance of themselves (separation).
One way we can check to see where we are with our habits of shaming and blaming is to notice our reactions when we see video, read stories or hear about some of what is happening in our world each and every day. If our immediate reaction is to say or think something negative about “the other(s)”, then it may be time to take a closer look at ourselves – what we believe, what we know (or not) about who we are, and what may be missing in our own lives. If our response is one of compassion – a recognition that we, too, have hurts, grievances and are working our way through them – then we are honestly taking responsibility for ourselves, rather than projecting that pain and anger onto “the other”.
A present day example of this is unfolding before us in a highly visible way.
There is a trial underway this week in Minnesota that the world is likely watching – as are many of us here in the US. The trial of a former police officer who’s knee on the neck of a black man for more than eight minutes and which led to the man’s death, is unfolding and it is being broadcast live.
The video is self-evident. Yet, the defense is planning to make their case that the officer is innocent because of the victim’s apparent use of illegal substances.
I offer this as an example of how ingrained in so many of our human systems, this unconscious habit of “scapegoating” or shaming and blaming really is. When it comes to victims, of most any crime or injustice, blaming the victim makes the perpetrators and their defenders feel better for a while. How many times have you wondered to yourself or aloud, just how these people sleep at night?
And I wonder how many of us – are unconscious as well? Do we “fly off the handle” as a reaction to something we don’t like? Do we become angry and keep it inside, only to lose our temper with the very next encounter – likely with a loved one?
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“If you identify with a mental position, then if you are wrong, your mind-based sense of self is seriously threatened with annihilation. So you as the ego cannot afford to be wrong. To be wrong is to die. Wars have been fought over this, and countless relationships have broken down.
– Eckhart Tolle
The work of learning to know ourselves – our habits, our wounds or hurt places, the times we may have intentionally or unintentionally caused harm or pain to another – is not easy work to do. It’s very challenging to do alone. And yet, it is the work of our lives.
Assuaging our wounded egos through projecting our pain onto another through scapegoating, shaming and/or blaming is yet one more way we point at another as the one who is wrong, rather than first looking at ourselves. When we have erred, taking responsibility for that is one of the important ways we begin to embrace ourselves and our vulnerability.
After all, vulnerability is a superpower. The scapegoating, shaming and blaming are a blatant sign of our unconsciousness.
Healing, growing, becoming more conscious is always possible. You do not have to “fit in” anywhere…except within yourself. You are a part of the entire universe of light and love.
“Whenever there is negativity in you, if you can be aware in that moment that there is something in you that takes pleasure in it or believes it has a useful purpose, you are becoming aware of the ego directly. The moment this happens your identity has shifted from ego to awareness. This means the ego is shrinking and awareness is growing. “
– Eckhart Tolle