Told to Atone

I never know how people will respond to information about us having blood cancer.

Most people are supportive and kind

When we talk about it and share our experiences, I’d like to say that most responses are altruistic, compassionate, and supportive. I’d like to say that people respond with an inquisitive desire to understand and share their own struggles in an attempt to reach out.

I’d like to say that the struggles we encounter are simply us humans having a human experience. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t faced adversity.  We are one in the fact that we all struggle in some way, even if these struggles look different from person to person.

One reaction was brutal, and mystifying

Recently a comment on a forum in response to a cancer patient reaching out about her loneliness during the pandemic got to me. I know freedom of speech is important and I believe that nothing about this comment was intended to be brutal, but to me it was. It got me to the core.

It was one word. Atone. The commenter told the cancer patient to atone.

How could one simple word bring up so many emotions? So much shame and ultimately anger and then a desire to back away, isolate, and be safe in the very loneliness the cancer patient described. To go from this feeling that we are all somehow connected in our experiences to a deep desire to disconnect and stay that way.

I'm not to blame for my blood cancer

Atone…. The commenter saw illness as the result of something the cancer patient did wrong. A consequence for her actions. The commenter wanted the cancer patient to give reparations, to give an expiation for a wrongful deed, repent, and in that repentance admit guilt and accept shame.

I understand that we all have different attitudes based on our experiences, upbringing, and belief systems. I understand that we all want autonomy and understanding in this thing called life. I get that cancer is scary and that illness, in general, is something we all want to avoid.

Who's fault is this?

What I saw in this comment was a need to take control somehow. I saw a need to believe that we all have the power to avoid the unpleasant situations that we see around us. I saw a need to separate from the unpleasant. In this comment, I saw blame.

Rather than come to a place of understanding and support, from what I have seen, many of us choose to blame. It looks like this…

They brought this on themselves. They did something wrong. They made the wrong decision. They must have deserved what they got. Such a harried existence must be earned, right? 

When we think this way maybe we feel a little more powerful. A little more righteous in our own decision-making. We might feel protected in the belief that our actions will bring positive results and the actions of others bring on their own negative results. Doesn’t that feel much better now?

Life isn't fair

It’s not true though. People who do good don’t always get their just desserts. People who do wrong don’t always get to repair the damage. Life is much more complicated than that.

Perhaps blame is a way some of us protect ourselves from the emotional toll of accepting that life just isn’t fair. We do the best we can and sometimes the result is far from the ideal. Accepting that can be hard to do.

We see some wonderful people doing beautiful things who still struggle despite it all. We see some awful behavior in people that still brings them incredible rewards. There is nothing simple in any of this.

Does blame make us feel powerful?

I think that we excel when we try to understand each other, find the commonalities and work from there to find a mutually acceptable response. In that there is healing. In that there is humanity.

So I put this to you. Does blame make us feel more powerful and in control? Does it make the complexities of life a little more bearable? As I bury my head in thoughts much deeper than my pillow I’d like to know what you think, too.

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