Blame and shame – an unhealthy game

‘I’m sure it all started when I fell off that bus,’ said a friend who’d been diagnosed with a serious cancer of the digestive tract.

This was a long time ago. More than twenty five years since.

The friend, a middle-aged smoker, spent all day sitting in her flat, upstairs from mine, with her de-clawed cat. Watching television and eating unhealthy food.

She took no exercise except walking to catch the bus into town. And even then, the bus stop was right outside our front door.

You can see where this might go, can’t you?

Fast forward more than a decade and I’m sitting in a family home in Texas when the phone rings. When pa-in-law returns it’s with bad news. A relative – not one of the immediate family but still, only a couple of degrees removed – has cancer.

Being the empathetic person I am (and I’m not claiming that as a praiseworthy virtue, it’s just how I am, I can’t help it), I am instantly sympathetic, sad on her behalf and ready to console.

Imagine my discomfort when there was no, ‘Poor Evangeline’ (I made up the name) but instead an instant recitation of the many reasons why she had brought this on herself.

Pa-in-law was not, I should stress, a monster – and he was far from alone in this attitude. It is an all too common phenomenon.

We don’t want to think we’ll get X, Y or Z illness so we reach for reasons someone else has drawn the short straw.

Crisp, hot, hand cut chips with salt and vinegar - all in recyclable boxes

She ate too much – or just the wrong things. She was too thin – anorexia, that’s vanity for you. She smoked, drank alcohol, didn’t exercise enough. She was too stressed out, worked too hard, didn’t work at all. Spent too long watching daytime TV.

Something is always to blame.

I think this is one of the worst aspects of our western ‘civilisation’ today.

Nothing is an accident.

Nothing is beyond our control.

Nothing is down to the random throw of the dice, to sheer bad luck.

For many, many years (as the poor chap married to this serial hypochondriac will testify) I would say, ‘If I get a serious illness don’t tell your mum and dad.’

I knew all the things they could pull out of the blame bag. I’d got there first, had a list ready-made.

Yes, they’d also come up with the latest medical news, ideas for treatment, possibly even money to help – but I couldn’t stand the thought of my dearly beloved having to face, ‘Well, after all, she did…’.

It crops up too, this kind of attitude, in the media.

There’s a brash woman, fit as a flea at well over 60, who writes a column for a daily newspaper. People who drink alcohol or smoke or are obese or indulge in dangerous pursuits, she says, should have to pay our wonderful, free-at-the-point-of-delivery National Health Service for their medical treatment. Because they’re to blame.

Take that to its logical conclusion, please.

What would we do about, say, having babies?

Effective contraception is widely available. Having a baby, therefore, is arguably a choice.

So, being somewhat rational and allowing for straightforward reproduction, if you had more than two, you’d have to pay for all your medical treatment.

And if you were proved to be partial to bacon and fried egg sandwiches, you’d have to pay for treatment for any heart problems you might develop.

One of the side effects (trust me, there’s research) of these attitudes is defensiveness and evasion among those who have symptoms. Because it becomes yet another competition, with winners and losers.

I’m healthier than you. I’m stronger, fitter, better than you.

Or (jauntily) I’m older than you but I don’t need a hip replacement (that was a 70 year-old in-law on this side of the pond, just to be even-handed – and he’s not a monster either.)

When someone is sick, injured or suffering from depression, the last thing they need is to be blamed – they’re probably torturing themselves enough as it is.

And, let’s face it, bad diets and so on aside, sometimes people are just plain lucky with their health – but sometimes people aren’t.

DSCN0464

Start my blame list here

I parade down the road on my crutches, angry that I have a problem, but in the next breath, I’m ashamed that I dare think of it as unfair. My life so far has been remarkably pain and disability free. My bones will mend, are already mending.

As I struggle to use a contraption for putting my socks on – there’s no way someone with weak arms could do it – and as I grow increasingly impatient with the fact I can’t drive for another two weeks and 3 days – I think of the lonely and the neglected.

Blame may make you (or me) feel good – in a ‘phew, I’m all right’ kind of way – but it makes someone else feel like a failure.

People with cancer, people with arthritis, people with HIV Aids or manic depression are not failures.

Apportioning blame is not just superfluous, it’s cruel.

And, no matter whether they’ve done something that contributed to their problems, shame won’t help.

Pain, misery and curtailing of ability is bad enough.

So, why not just be nice?

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10 Responses to Blame and shame – an unhealthy game

  1. Judy Barnes says:

    Abso-jolly-lutely! My friend’s small child had a horrifying accident with a tractor and a distraught Grandfather.People immediately launched off with,well of course they always were far too lax with their children – it was an accident waiting to happen;etc etc….and obviously,(it goes without saying – nearly)if you had drunk less wine you would still have your own pair of hips and wouldn’t have endangered the life of an unsuspecting waiter!

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    • Ha ha Judy you’re so right – less wine more hip! Or do I mean more wine more hips?! Waiter, bring me the list – but be careful for goodness’ sake. 😉
      Yes, people are so quick to rush to judgement, rarely thinking of the pain for the ones inolved. They might do well to think there but for the grace of a little more often … xx

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  2. EllaDee says:

    Maybe we were better off when we had all those pagan gods to appease and to blame; the evil eye; the pointing of the bone; the ill wishes of a fairy godmother come to fruition…
    Nowadays we only have ourselves and ill-advised consumption of just about anything including possibly fresh air… well, who knows what murky vapours are lurking.
    In my family simply living is risky… as each milestone anniversary of parents’ and grandparents’ deaths is passed… they breathe a little easier.

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    • I often refer to those pagan gods when I’m writing – I see them sitting up there around their little pool stirring it to make ripples for us pesky mortals – and I was going to say, I might just reinstate them as token gods for a while and see how it goes – but I’m not sure I would want all of them around. Like Zeus, for example, he seemed to be unable to understand when no meant no.
      We were once given an eye, a large glass thing, a flat plaque with a very sinister and solid looking eye at its centre, that was meant to bring us good luck.A friend acquired it for us via her sister who was (she said) a witch. It seemed to bring nothing but misfortune (I’m sure it had nothing to do with it really) and we threw it away only to hear that it should have beem disposed of in water. Ah well, who knows whether it had any powers at all. I certainly didn’t like the way it looked. Living is risky. You’re right. And those milestones, yes, indeed. The last time I saw my mother she said, ‘My Auntie Winnie died when she was 77, I’m 77, I’m going to die.’ She did.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Audrey Chin says:

    HI Mary, this is a crazy place to post this but I don’t actually have an email for you.
    I’ll be in London May 12 and May 13 for some readings. I know you’re not actually near London but if you have a need to be there on those dates, would love to see you at the book events.
    Please email me at oddznns@gmail.com and I’ll send you details if you think you might be in that part of England then.
    l)

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    • Hi Audrey will email you – but I don’t think I’ll be able to do it… 😦

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      • Audrey Chin says:

        I am so sorry, I haven’t been visiting for a while and didn’t realize you’re stuck in bed with for 6 weeks in exxxxxx cruciating pain. And having to read Martin Amis as well… ugh!
        Get well soon. I shall be sending healing vibes your way at meditation hour and especially when I go for boot-camp vippassana in June;).

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        • Hi Audrey thanks for this but don’t worry – I’m not stuck in bed, just housebound except when a kind person takes me out for a drive somewhere – and the pain is negligible now – I’ve been very lucky. I do hate sleeping on my back though, an irritation but not a pain. More than anything it’s just the frustration at being marooned! But the plus side is I have read more poetry than I have for a long time and a couple of brilliant books loaned to me by a friend that I otherwise would have missed. All healing vibes welcome, though, as I do physio! I’ve emailed you about London, m

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  4. mud4fun says:

    Well said Mary!

    Smokers pay £9 billion a year in duty which more than covers the NHS treatment costs of £2 billion so the age old argument of them costing the NHS is slightly flawed as government revenue far exceeds expenditure 🙂 In theory the same could be said of Alcohol too as HMRC revenue from that is even higher however in that case the expenditure is far higher because of the anti-social aspects that it causes and resulting extra costs in policing etc.

    I’ve done numerous things in my life that could be regarded as contributing to my early demise from smoking and drinking to spraying my Land Rovers without a suitable mask on or changing oil without gloves. However it could be argued that somebody who likes climbing cliff faces as a sport is equally irresponsible. What a boring society it would be if we all did nothing for fear of shortening our lives by a few years or for being a burden to the state.

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    • Hi Ian – yup, life would be very boring without taking a few risks! Archaeologists are particularly bad … All those deep un-shored-up pits, licking old bones they’ve just dug out of who knows what kind of ground (I have managed to persuade him to stop doing that at last), not to mention the tstetse flies and mosquitoes and wild animals (in Africa anyawy) and beer and wine. Once limits are put on healthcare for ‘risk’ reasosns where on earth would we be? Sitting still? No, that’s bad for us. Thanks for reading – have a good Easter – should be plenty of mud for your fun!

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