Tuesday, February 18, 2014

On Blame

I know there are some people that never want to take responsibility for anything.  They spill their coffee on themselves and sue McDonald's because the coffee was hot.  Of course, they ordered hot coffee.  They would have been unhappy if they'd been served lukewarm coffee.

But there are other people, a lot of people, in our society that want to blame victims.  Maybe victim isn't always the right word, but sometimes it is, and they do blame victims.  But they are the people that insist you are responsible for the choices you make, no matter what.  They ignore the fact that the choices we have are sometimes, maybe oftentimes, limited by forces outside our control.  They ignore the fact that the choices we see may also be limited by forces outside our control.

What do I mean by that?  Well, we may not always see all the choices that are actually available to us.  We are limited by the information we have.  We are limited by the education we've had.  We are limited by the psychological development we've achieved and the experiences we've had.

For instance.  When I was 16, I got pregnant.  I choose to marry the father of my baby, against the advice of my parents but with their consent, because in the state in which I lived, you had to have your parents consent as well as permission from a judge in order to get married if you were under 18. 

I had PTSD then, although it hadn't been diagnosed.  It hadn't been diagnosed because my parents never took me to a therapist or doctor, even when I sort of overdosed on some Tylenol when I was in 8th grade.  After I got married, I was an emancipated minor, which means for most purposes I was not considered a minor.  So I did not need my parents' consent to see a therapist.  However, I had no money so I did not seek therapy.  I was aware that therapy costs money.

Now, you could saw that I chose not to seek therapy, that I could have gone to a mental health clinic that operated on a sliding fee scale or that I could have applied for and received Medicaid, which pays for therapy.  Only I did not know those things existed.  I grew up in a middle-class family and we had health insurance.  Once I got married, I no longer had health insurance.  My parents did not bother to tell me that things like clinics with sliding fee scales and Medicaid even existed.  So I didn't know that I had a choice.  A teacher at school talked to me one day and told me where I could go for counseling and that it would be free since I had no money.  Another teacher told me that I could get Medicaid, and where to go to apply for it, and that it would pay for all sorts of medical needs.  And suddenly I had a lot more choices.

Today I read something in which the writer was complaining about overweight people blaming others for their weight.  I think it is important to take responsibility for ourselves but I also think it's important to acknowledge how the actions of other people affect us, especially the actions of our parents when we're growing up.  With regard to weight, well, as children we eat what our caregivers provide for us.  We cannot earn our own money, shop for our own food, and prepare our own food.  We also don't know what food is healthy and what food isn't.  We rely on our caregivers to meet our needs, including buying food and preparing it for us.  As we grow older, we start learning more about nutrition, like at school, but most schools don't provide very healthy food, either. 

As teenagers, maybe we are able to get an after school job and earn some money, and I guess we could use that money to buy healthy food, and as teenagers we are probably able to prepare food for ourselves, but by then we might already be obese and might have developed very poor eating habits, not of our own choice, but because children learn what they are taught.

So when we become adults, yes, we're responsible for buying and preparing our own food and making our own food choices, but we come to that point carrying baggage, and it's not baggage that we chose to carry.  It's baggage placed on us by our childhood caregivers.  Now, we can decide we don't want to keep carrying that baggage and start taking steps to let some of it go, but most people can't just do that instantly.  It can take time, sometimes lots of time, and hard work.

Even as adults, there are many things in our lives we have control over, but there are some things we don't.  For instance for the past three months, financially things have been really rough for me.  I had to have some costly dental work done, and I didn't choose to have dental problems and they weren't caused by something like me choosing not to brush my teeth.  I guess I could have chosen not to get the dental work done, but having a broken tooth in the front of my mouth not only looked bad, but was causing a lot of pain.  For more than a month, I lived mostly on protein shakes and Greek yogurt and soup. 

So I made the choice to get the dental work done but it was very expensive and I live on a very tight budget anyway, and that large expense meant I needed to rely on food from a local food pantry for a few months if I wanted to eat.  I made the choice to eat, so I visited the food pantry.  I did not have control over what food was given out at the food pantry.  Yes, I had control over whether or not I ate it, but when given a choice between eating Poptarts and Frosted Flakes and things like that or not eating at all, I think most people would choose the Poptarts and Frosted Flakes.

I am not blaming the people at the food pantry for the fact that I ate less-then-ideal foods for a while.  Some of the food I got at the food pantry was actually excellent - I got some Greek yogurt, some avocados, some bananas, some cottage cheese (which I don't actually like but chose to eat anyway because I wanted to eat and it was healthy for me), etc.  And I did buy some groceries myself and made healthy choices there, but I was not able to afford to buy enough food to feed myself for a whole month. 

Again, I'm not blaming the people at the food pantry for the fact that I ate less-than-ideal foods, but I'm not blaming myself, either.  I made the best choices I could in a difficult situation but the situation was not my fault.

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