Last year, I moved in a new community. It was a nice community. People in the community don't hesitate to help others. Also, it was an active community. A football game would be held once a month; people were organized as a team randomly. The team players even had their own team soccer uniforms. Although these were just some cheap soccer uniforms, all the players looked great and we had a wonderful time while playing the game. I did enjoy living in this community.
One January, I had to hold two funerals on successive days for two elderly women in the community. Their homes happened to be near each other, so I paid condolence calls on the two families on the same afternoon. This experience taught me something about the ways in which people make a bad situation worse by blaming themselves.
At the first home, the son of the deceased woman said to me, "if only I had sent my mother to Florida and gotten her out of this cold and snow, she would be alive today. It's my fault that she died." At the second home, the son of the other deceased woman said, "if only I hadn't insisted on my mother's going to Florida, she would be alive today. That long airplane ride, the sudden change of climate, was more than she could take. It's my fault that she's dead."
You see that any time there is a death, the survivors will feel guilty. Because the course of action they took turned out badly, they believe that the opposite course----keeping mother at home, putting off the operation----would have turned out better. After all, how could it have turned out any worse?
There seem to be two elements involved in our willingness to feel guilty. The first is our pressing need to believe that the world makes sense, that there is a cause for every effect and a reason for everything that happens. That leads us to find patterns and connections both where they really exist and where they exist only in our minds.
The second element is the view that we are the cause of what happens, especially the bad things that happen. It seems to be a short step form believing that every event has a cause to believing that every disaster is our fault. the roots of this feeling may lie in our childhood.
A baby comes to think that the world exists to meet his needs, and that he makes everything happen in it. He wakes up in the morning and summons the rest of the world to its tasks. He cries, and someone comes to attend to him. When he is hungry, people feed him, and when he is wet, people change him. Very often, we do not completely outgrow that childish view that our wishes cause things to happen.
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