Thursday, September 22, 2011


There are different degrees of misplaced blame. There's the kind where an accident gets misattributed as an avoidable action. Say, for instance, the cat runs in front of you as you are heading to the door, and you step on the cat's foot. Or some part of the cat, it's hard to be sure, since it all happened so fast. It's also hard to be sure that blame is in this case misattributed.  That cat has been under your feet all day long. Shouldn't you have been watching out for him?

Then there's the kind where you get blamed for something someone else did. There was the time several years ago when my husband blamed me for paying some personal bills online out of the joint checking account, causing checks for household bills to bounce. Actually, they didn't bounce. The reason we knew about the whole snafu was that we got a letter from the bank telling us they had paid the bills anyway, and charged the amount to his Visa. Reason enough for him to be irate, but I was puzzled, since I remembered setting up my bills to be paid out of my account, not the household account.

When I looked online at the transaction history, I discovered that it showed I had set up the payments to come out of my account, and that the error was the bank's. As I found out when I called them, their computers had been down in the wake of Hurricane Gustav, so they keyed in the upcoming bill pay transactions themselves, using the default account that they had on file. They assured me they would transfer the money appropriately and cancel all fees. I informed my husband of this conversation calmly and politely, for those definitions of "calmly and politely" meaning that no actual weapons were used.

The worst kind of misattributed blame, however, is the kind in which you get blamed  for doing something that never actually happened. The day that I stepped on D'Artagnan, I let my husband know what had happened so that we could keep an eye on the cat to see if it started limping. The cat meanwhile was climbing the six foot tall bookcase, but Truffle hadn't shown any signs of his broken bone until it got infected, so I didn't want to take chances. Hubby looked D'Artagnan over and noticed a claw that was poking up perpendicular to his paw, and promptly concluded that the bone was broken and the digit would have to be removed and it was All My Fault, even if the cat did run under my feet. 

When the vet saw the cat the next day, she told me the broken claw would grow back and added, "Sometimes they develop a husk that sheds." She assured me that there were no broken bones and that D'Artagnan was in great health otherwise.

Keep in mind, this was two days after I had been accused of letting the cat out of the house when the cat was actually in the house all along. So you can imagine how cheery I felt about being blamed for the broken bone that wasn't broken. Fortunately for hubby, he was at a workshop on professional ethics and did not return until I had had some time to calm down. I even was calm and polite (see above) when I pointed out to him that he tends to make decisions without having all the facts, or even recognizing that he doesn't have all the facts.

I realize that my husband isn't the only person who thinks all the facts he has are all the facts there are. That's pretty standard human behavior, including my pretty standard human behavior. Something of the sort has been displayed on the local sports message board, Tiger Droppings, now that the two football players accused of battery in a local bar fight are being brought before the grand jury.

A few days ago, it was announced that no traces of the victim's DNA were found on any of 49 pairs of shoes belonging to the accused that had been seized on a warrant last month. The DA described the DNA results as "inconclusive", but they were actually conclusive: there was no match, not even a partial one, to the victim's DNA on any of the shoes. What the DA meant by "inconclusive" was that the lack of DNA does not clear the suspect, because they don't know if the shoes he was wearing were among the ones confiscated. Apparently there are witnesses who say the accused is the one who kicked the victim while he was down on the ground and others who say they saw the accused at the time of the fight and he was not involved. So now the DA is bringing all the witnesses before the grand jury, where they will be under oath and facing perjury charges for lying.

Reading the messages on TD reminds me that there is yet another, more pernicious form of blame: blaming the victim. Much is being made of the victim's behavior prior to his being kicked while on the ground: he allegedly stalked his ex-girlfriend, who ultimately got a restraining order on him, he is shown on videotape arguing with one of her friends at the bar and eventually pushing her, he is alleged to have thrown the first punch in another altercation, causing him to be thrown out of the bar before the fight in the parking lot. He's not much of a role model for today's youth, but once he was on the ground, helpless, he did not deserve to be kicked in the head.

At least the criticism directed at the victim, however, is directed at his pugnacious behavior, known and alleged.  It is not of the "this would never have happened if he hadn't been in a bar at that hour of the night to begin with" variety. The criticism directed at the accused, however, is. When asked to reflect on the possibility that he may be innocent, being blamed for a crime that someone else committed, many posters are responding with variations of, "If he hadn't broken curfew and been in a bar at that hour of the night, this would never have happened to him." That's an argument that sounds eerily familiar. If you're charged with a crime you didn't commit, it's not because eye witness testimony is faulty; it's not because you were the most recognizable face in the crowd; it's not because of racial prejudice (that never happens here in the South); no, it's because bad things never happen to people who weren't asking for it by being where they shouldn't be and when. Never mind that you have no way of knowing "where you shouldn't be and when" until the bad things happen.  Never mind that bad things happen to people at two in the afternoon.

I understand the desire to learn from other people's mistakes. No one wants to be the victim of a crime. No one wants to be falsely accused of a crime. If you can trace the sequence of events that led to another person's predicament, you can figure out where to break the chain before it leads to your being in the same predicament. It's a short step from there to "He shouldn't have been so pugnacious". "He shouldn't have been out late drinking." 

We never know the entire sequence of events. The facts we have aren't all the facts there are. Given that we are human and limited, the facts we have are never going to be all the facts there are.  That's something to think about before placing blame.

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