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MARTHA SEZ: Karma, Hitler and scapegoats

February 14, 2014
By MARTHA ALLEN , Lake Placid News

These heartfelt words were spoken by a little boy named Alexander, as quoted on Facebook by his mother: "I hope Karma doesn't come!"

Alexander had just lost a tooth and was looking back regretfully on the time when his brother had lost a tooth, and he, Alexander, had thrown it into the toilet before the tooth fairy came.

The social media give us glimpses of myriad lives, as if doors all over the world are pushed open a crack. The glimpses are revealing of individual quirks and opinions as well as group trends.

Lately, I have noticed a theme repeated by friends from different generations and different parts of the country. The gist of it is that we should all stop blaming other people and take a look at ourselves. Your life, like it or not, is the sum total of your own choices-so the philosophy goes-so shut up and get on with it.

While this philosophy definitely has its points, I don't buy it. Sure, we all get tired of hearing others blame their mothers for their lives of crime. We want to tell them, "Get a grip! You're a grown-up now. Nobody made you knock over that gas station."

In the same vein, tales of how former wives, and the children these women somehow entrapped their trusting mates into siring, are bleeding these guys dry are very tiresome to listen to. "Yeah, yeah," I think when I hear this old story. Boo hoo. Fork over the child support.

So far, you would think that I wholeheartedly embrace the you-made-your-bed-now-lie in-it approach to personal responsibility.

It's true that when something goes wrong at the office or other place of business, employees and bosses alike often waste time laying blame instead of working together to solve the problem.

The practice of scapegoating apparently is wired into the human brain. The word comes from the Bible, referring to the ancient practice of assigning blame for all of the sins and illnesses of the entire community to some random goat, and then banishing the goat, allowing him to escape to the desert.

I worked at a company in Boulder, Colo., where the practice of scapegoating was followed ritualistically. Oddly enough, the sacrificial employee was always someone who had been a loyal and involved member of the team. After the scapegoat was fired, everyone breathed a sigh of relief, and life went on very cheerfully-for a while - until it was time to select the next one. Then we started getting all nervous and critical of our coworkers, taking sides and whispering in corners. Like Alexander, I would cross my fingers and fervently hope that Karma wouldn't come. It was just like Shirley Jackson's short story "The lottery." Luckily, I left before the lot fell to me.

We make choices, but to quote John Lennon, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans." It is unrealistic to suppose that anyone is master of his fate, or in total control of her life.

Remember Ecclesiastes 9:11? "The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all."

Time and chance. That's what gets you.

Taking responsibility is certainly more useful than assigning blame. The trouble with insisting that everyone has the life that he or she has chosen can be dangerous, though. I give credit to those who have overcome adversity or who have earned for themselves wealth, popularity and power. Successful people should take credit (while not forgetting their mothers' contributions). On the other hand, the belief that life is what you make it, and that everyone's choices have directly determined their life paths, can have the effect of blaming the unfortunate for their own suffering. Life is not that simple.

Many years ago, my sister remarked to me, "Martha, whenever you get in an argument, you have to drag Hitler into it." When I stopped and thought about it, I realized that, once again, Sissy was right. I always did drag Hitler into it.

OK, here's my final word. Some people really are to blame. Some people are just plain evil. Look for example at Hitler.

Taking responsibility is better than blaming. But in doing so, let's not blame others for their unhappiness.

As for me, I'm still hoping Karma doesn't come. Probably Alexander has moved on.

Have a good week.



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