The Search for a Scapegoat
Fury and blame are unlikely to feature in healing and redemption stories. Creating awareness of our flawed humanness is the first step toward eradicating contagious hate.
The media is full of sad happenings. Some of those stories are about people who didn’t get what they needed from the health system. There are so many feelings in these narratives, such as anger, hopelessness, powerlessness, sorrow, and betrayal. Unfortunately, these emotions are often commodified by the media and used to engender outrage. What happens next is never usually that good.
The frenzy that ensues rarely ends in progress, instead, basic human blood-lust is fuelled. The maddened crowd want someone to hang, someone they can pour all of their blame into for whatever is wrong in society. When a member of a group you belong to has become the receptacle for this stream of fury, it is like watching a sacrificial slaying of a clan member.
There is often an internal war for clan mates, between showing up to collegial advocacy, and personal justification for staying the hell out of the line of fire. In my experience, the reason most people keep their heads down and try to pretend they haven’t seen the bad thing is to protect themselves, their reputation and their career, but mostly their ego. That insidious little character that sits on the shoulder of the would-be hero and says things like, “…but what if you’ve got it wrong and they are to blame? How will that look to the world? Oh, the shame. What if they kill you too?” Never mind that your pal over there is having their throat cut, slowly. The ego is purposefully missing the point. It is not what the scapegoat has or hasn’t done, it is how we are treating them that the mob have lost awareness of if ever they had it.
When people arrive at the threshold of my clinic door I sometimes feel like they reach into their handbag to pull out the hot potato that lands in my lap before they’ve even sat down. In that one swift action, they have handed over the responsibility for whatever they have come to see me about, in its entirety.
GP appointments are fifteen minutes long because our health system has not responded appropriately to need (that will take a book and a PhD, not just a blog post, to describe). I will often spend a third of that time finding a way we can hold the hot potato together. I do this because I respect the person in front of me and I respect myself. The patient is the expert themselves, nobody knows what makes them tick more than they do. I have some expertise that might help them with their current issue but I do not know what the best thing for them is. If I take full responsibility for their problem I will fail.
The doctor-patient power imbalance has long been acknowledged. Much has been done to address it but there is a long way to go. However, I don’t think it can ever be fully resolved due to the very nature of the relationship. When I go to see my GP I’m always nervous, I worry about whether I will get my story out accurately enough to get my needs met. I’m also acutely aware of her workload and pressures, and even though it shouldn’t, this also informs how I get my own hot potato out. The whole thing is fraught. The best thing that can happen right at the beginning, is that the fraught-ness is acknowledged, then the air can clear ever so slightly and we can see our way, together.
When something goes wrong in medicine it usually involves health and/or life which are pretty high stakes - we knew this when we became doctors yet, on we marched for mostly the right reasons. While prestige, status, power, and agenda are drivers for some people in any industry, most people don’t want to cause other people harm (excluding mental dictators). Some people just aren’t good at their job and need to move on, but most people do their best.
One of the problems is that we humans struggle with taking responsibility for a bad outcome that we never intended, and so our responses are often poorly chosen. This has led to a health system adjunct whose core business is about helping us to be better at showing up and saying sorry. Their research tells us that this is the step we stumble on and the ripple effect of this leads to the public lynching.
It will take a collective awareness of all the moving parts of the narrative in order to rise above it. We must start with examining ourselves and be honest about what we’re bringing to the story. What are our intentions for our own health and wellbeing? How can we take people along to help us achieve that? When I asked myself these questions it led to me leaving medicine completely. Mostly I was following my truth but if I’m honest I also had blisters on my hands from all the hot potatoes. This is not about internalising the locus but rather raising our consciousness around how much we externalise it. Start with noticing your breath…