I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we only see what we want to see; how our own feelings about something or someone can skew a situation so that we lose sight of what’s real. It makes us behave in really terrible ways sometimes. We turn a blind eye to a person or a situation because we don’t want to believe we’ve made a poor judgment — of character or otherwise. We lash out at anyone who tries to get us to see the situation for what it is.
Reality can be a real bitch sometimes, and we resent anyone who bursts our bubbles by trying to make us see it.
What got me thinking about this was the suspects’ family’s reaction in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. As it became clear who the men were and the evidence began to mount against them, it seemed undeniable. They’d even told their hostage that they were responsible. They threw explosives at police officers.
The media, predictably, sought out any link they could find, asking friends and family members (or, in CNN’s case, the bombers’ mechanic) to share their thoughts and reactions. An uncle urged the remaining brother to turn himself in and ask for forgiveness. His response was passionate and it was clear that he didn’t doubt his nephews’ role in the events.
But the rest of the family, including an outspoken aunt and the parents, said, “No. They’ve been framed. They didn’t do this.”
It’s understandable that shock might settle in and you might not want or be able to believe it. But to declare vehemently that the government did this to frame your children just seems so outrageous. And insulting.
As a teacher, I dealt with parents like this often (although to a far lesser degree). I’d say, “I saw your daughter cheating on a test,” and immediately they would jump on the defense. My daughter would never do that. You just don’t like her.
Maybe that’s a natural reaction when you care about someone. However, out of concern for his well-being, I once (as a teacher) had my own brother suspended, so what do I know.
But what favors are you doing someone when you know they’re wrong or they’ve hurt someone and you let it go? Worse, what message does it send to the people to whom you defend them? (Hint: when people do this to you, it kind of indicates that they don’t think you’re smart enough to be right or that you must have some ulterior motive.)
They’ve invalidated, strong-armed, and dominated. You’re wrong. End of discussion.
And it extends to all kinds of relationships.
The same week as the bombings, my uncle was substitute teaching at the high school that our family has all attended. There are nine periods a day. Each period is 42 minutes long with four minutes in between. At the beginning of first period, my uncle slumped over the desk.
In a world that makes sense, the kids would have gone to get help. But they didn’t.
They took pictures of him and started to text it around to their friends. They took videos of him and put them on social media sites.
First period came and went. No one got help. Second period came and by the end of it, someone decided to tell the nurse. At the beginning of third period, they were just getting him to come to and out of the classroom. His speech was apparently slurred and he was disoriented. The nurse should have called 911. Those are classic symptoms of a stroke. Instead, she called my aunt. It took her another 40 minutes to get there from work. By the time they got my uncle to the hospital, he was admitted to the ICU. When he woke up, he wanted to know how the students were. He felt really embarrassed about what had happened to him.
Meanwhile, the kids continued to pass the pictures and videos around. People in my family heard teachers laughing about the substitute who fell asleep and would never work again. But he didn’t fall asleep. He was slumped over on a desk, unconscious for nearly two hours before anyone got help.
I taught for a year in this school. I saw how students who asked to have punishments taken away had them taken away. I saw how a student could get right in my face, scream and swear at me, threaten to hit me, and just have to sit in time-out in the office for the last 10 minutes of class. I know that this school’s leadership has turned a blind eye to discipline, and it very nearly could have killed someone. The students know it’s okay to behave like that.
They got “a talking to” and nothing of consequence happened to any of them. Blind eye strikes again.
These are, of course, extreme examples. But I’m of the opinion that they get to these extremes because we ignore them when they’re smaller. If someone implies something unfavorable about someone you love, you’re going to get mad and take it personally. You’re going to deny any wrong doing on your loved one’s part. That’s natural. But if someone is being honest with you and making a point, is giving you solid proof that things aren’t necessarily what you see, that you’re overlooking something really important, brushing that off is really a douche move.
In doing so, you’re undermining the person who has good intentions when they come to you with a concern. You invalidate them and their feelings. What’s more, denying someone’s capacity for being wrong gives them permission to just keep doing it. And whether you’re going to acknowledge it or not, it will keep happening. I’ve ignored this so many times, I can’t even tell you. I’m not proud of it. But I was wrong. I made it okay for people to be jerks by telling the concerned party that they just didn’t understand the person or the situation. I was the one who didn’t understand.
And what happened (nearly every time) was that the person I’d defended (to the friends I’d alienated in the process) ended up showing his or her true colors. Sometimes years later. Their moves got bigger and bolder until I couldn’t deny them anymore. I just had to admit that I was wrong. The signs were always there. I just chose not to see them.
It’s difficult to articulate this without sounding self-righteous, which isn’t my intent. As I’ve indicated, I’m just as guilty. But it’s been nagging at me, which generally means “write it.”
I guess what I’m getting at and exploring here is that people come out of these situations saying something like, “Why didn’t anyone tell me or warn me?” The signs were always there. They were pointed out in the most delicate but honest ways (but also, sometimes not). We just choose to see what we want to see and we turn a blind eye to everything else. Problems multiply.
Being overly critical is something else entirely, and I’m not suggesting that. It can be quite damaging. But no one is perfect. Even the people you love the most in this whole world have done things that are shameful. Something echoed by many of the younger bomber’s friends was how laid back and mild-tempered he seemed, which just goes to show that even the people you think are the least likely still have the capacity to hurt others, either directly or indirectly.
And if we truly care about people as much as we say we do, we need to see them for who they really are. I just can’t see that ignoring it or lashing out at someone else for bringing it up is doing us or them any favors.