In a display of incredibly bad timing, the exercise bike I have used nearly every morning for the past two years packed it in last Wednesday. Given how important my morning cycle is to maintaining my health and fitness, and the restrictions that my vision impairment puts on my options for a high-intensity workout, I wanted the bike to be replaced pretty quickly.
Because he loves me dearly, at his first reasonable opportunity, my husband joined the queue encircling the block from the fitness goods store in our local area. (It turns out that a LOT of people will miss the gyms and other fitness centres commanded to close last week.) Chief among these mourners were the young fit men who ordinarily inhabit the space directly in front of the mirrors in upmarket gyms. Far be it from me to cast aspersions on anyone looking to maintain their wellbeing through a time of collective crisis, but the attitude displayed by some of these gym natives made me wonder if all the blood going to their biceps had deprived the empathy centres of their brains.
A staff member from the store was going along the line to inquire what each person was after so that anyone bound for disappointment could leave and take their chances with an online order. To his credit, as he went, he reminded customers of the need to maintain social distancing.
A young man ahead of my husband shrugged a well-muscled shoulder at the suggestion that he keep a safe distance from his companions and asked why he should change how he lived his life “just because some old bag can’t be bothered to wash her hands.”
While it is tempting to hope this attitude is cast out of its owner’s mind with a good strong case of COVID19, the reality is that he would almost certainly perpetuate its spread to all sorts of thoroughly undeserving members of our society.
Of course, the reality is that vigorous hand-washing is simply not enough to stop the spread of this pandemic threatening all of our lives.
It is difficult to cultivate the courage to confront difficulties you encounter if you are busy assigning blame for their existence. Pardon the French, but sometimes shit just happens.
If I interpreted the events that caused me to lose my sight to be the foreseeable result of my own actions, I would hardly be able to trust my own judgment sufficiently to parent my daughters or to hang out a shingle as an inspirational speaker. Who could be inspired by a woman stupid enough to have lined up for a surgery that left her blind? If I assigned blame to my medical team, I would be so eaten up by the desire to exact retribution that I would not have the drive to invest my energy into any endeavor that improved my own life less still the lives of anyone else.
I’m not a blamer.
(I mean I would blame you for eating the last of the lollies you knew I needed to treat low blood sugar episodes or for taping over my favourite show, but not for the big stuff.)
I am far more prone to being ashamed of myself for not doing things perfectly, but I am working very hard to cut myself a break because I know I am not at my most courageous when I am feeling unworthy.
The research I have found on blame, shame and their implications for resilience suggests that blame and shame both originate with a belief that someone must be at fault for every undesirable situation a person encounters: they differ only in whether the person assigns the blame to themselves or others.
As a general rule, I am reluctant to affix blame for misfortunes that befall me.
When, at the age of 20, I became the only person in my extended family to be diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, I did plenty of reading to work out how to manage the condition, but I spent very little time wondering why whatever it was that had triggered the autoimmune reaction that had caused the diabetes had happened to me. I knew it couldn’t be reversed, so why waste time and energy working out whether it was because I’d eaten all those boxes of Maltesers I was supposed to have sold to raise funds for my high school music program, or because my mother didn’t breastfeed me as an infant, or any other reason? I spent a little longer investigating the current research on causation after I had children but only so that, if it was something that could be avoided, I would do my darndest to ensure my children didn’t have to live with its restrictions and ramifications.
In times of adversity, what is key is fostering faith in ourselves and the information we receive from trustworthy sources, which give us the basis for believing we have it within our power to make a difference to any challenge we might face.
In the context of COVID-19, that may mean washing our hands twenty times a day. Other times, it will mean keeping our distance from our mates while waiting to buy some exercise equipment to see us through the social isolation measures that have proved necessary to get the world through this threat to us all, but most especially to the sick and elderly who enrichen our families and communities so much. Just as I fight the difficulties of living well with diabetes within the strictures of a severe visual impairment by getting back on my bike every morning, small bursts of individual effort practiced regularly can make a difference to whether this pandemic wreaks havoc with our lives and livelihoods. We must all resist the urge to find someone to blame for the pandemic itself or the extent of the inconvenience we must put up with in order to contain it.
For my own part, I plan to concentrate on what I will be doing when the pandemic is over – because, someday, it will be over – , rather than wasting precious time and energy seeking to find someone to blame for it happening at all.
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