In recent months there have been horrible tragedies. There have been terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and accidents involving children. The latest tragedy was the toddler attacked and killed by an alligator in Florida. This incident occurred at a family-friendly resort and no one thought this would happen.
I initially learned of this tragedy on Facebook. Pretty soon after the news broke, there was a landslide of criticism, blame and shame about how it was the parents’ fault.
This type of criticism also occurred about the boy fell into the gorilla exhibit and Zoo employees killed the gorilla. People on social media were quick to point out how this was the mother’s fault.
I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I was one of those quick judgers when the incident with the gorilla occurred. I immediately thought, “Why wasn’t that mother watching her kid?” and “I hope she gets in trouble.”
I felt a little validated when people were posting similar thoughts on Facebook. I admit, I was stuck in this judgmental stance for about a day. Something snapped me out of this and I was able to take an empathetic stance.
To me, empathy is really understanding the thoughts and feelings of another. I tried to put myself in the place of that mother of the boy that fell into the gorilla exhibit. I was immediately heart broken. I thought that seeing her child in that pit with that wild beast must have been the most horrible experience of her life.
While she was helpless to do anything when he was in danger, she was forced to watch and wait to see if her child would be ok. After the incident, she was met with so much criticism. I then thought, no one deserves that near death experience or the criticism that followed.
Thinking about the recent incident in Florida, I can’t even imagine what that family is going through. They went for a Disney vacation and are coming back without their whole family. I read that the father tried to fight off the alligator and I can only imagine the mental pictures, regret, and guilt he must feel. The whole family must feel awful! They too are getting so much criticism, blame and shame.
It’s easy to point the finger at someone and make quick judgments. When I was a quick judger, I didn’t feel deep, uncomfortable emotions. I was able to look at a situation and be very detached from it. I thought, “I’d never let that happen” or “It will never happen to me.”
The truth is, this is a false sense of security and it’s taking an easy way out. It’s easier to be detached and invincible than acknowledge that bad things can happen to anyone. If this was a terrorist attack or natural disaster, we would not blame, shame and criticize the victims. What gives us the right to do this now?
I would like to encourage everyone reading this to slow down on their judgments, whether the judgments are about others or about you. We all judge, that’s pretty natural for humans.
What I will ask you to do is to notice the judgment and then challenge yourself to take an empathetic stance. Really think about what that other person is going through. Even if you don’t agree with them, you’re giving yourself an opportunity to understand their experience.
This will allow you to react in a more supportive and connected way. This empathetic approach heals shame. I would bet that the families of the victims above are judging themselves enough and have enough shame and guilt to last a lifetime. Let’s support them through compassion and kindness.
This Post Written By:
Rachel Thomas, Owner, LMFT – Therapy With Heart
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