The Blame Game

I think it will come as no surprise to anyone that stuff happens. People make mistakes. Sometimes things go wrong.

What I can’t abide is what often happens next. Like flies to a rotting corpse, it seems like people swarm around, in search of someone to blame. I didn’t do it. You did it.

I don’t know if that instinct springs from a desperate need to save your own behind, or if humans are more into Schadenfreude (the pleasure derived from the misfortune of others) than we’d care to admit. I hope it isn’t the latter. I’d hate to think we as a species get off on seeing others thrown under the bus. But I have to admit that I’ve witnessed such behavior more than once.

I implore all authority figures the world over to stop asking whose fault things are, and instead, focus on how something happened, and how that thing can be prevented from happening in the future. Then the situation will improve.

If you focus on blame, people will naturally put more emphasis on covering things up. Serious problems will be swept under the rug. It’s only natural that the average person wants to be self-protective. In that atmosphere, things worsen.

Encourage new ideas. Allow people to think outside the box. Make the atmosphere safe to do this, and people become problem solvers.

Unless you are infallible, it’s really absurd to criticize those of us who commit human errors. Learn from these things and move on, rather than create an atmosphere of hostility and tension.

The only time blame is appropriate is when destruction is intentional.

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Child Witch Hysteria Revisited

I’ve written about the Child Witch Hysteria in Africa before. It pains me to have to do so again. But the crisis has not abated.

A new, disturbingly detailed report has come out, entitled Branded and beaten: The children accused of witchcraft and murder. It focuses on Nigeria in particular. It discusses how the local Pentecostal Churches, supported by the Nigerian film industry, are perpetuating the beliefs that child witches exist.

The film industry benefits from perpetuating this myth in ticket sales. It’s akin to America’s fascination with zombie movies, but with more disastrous consequences. And false prophets from these churches benefit because people will pay exorbitant prices, often equivalent to more than a year’s pay, to have their children exorcised. It’s an insidious industry that preys on the most vulnerable among us.

Once a child is branded as a witch, usually because of some family misfortune for which he or she is blamed, that child will be tortured to exact a confession. Some of the documented forms of torture include hot irons, hot machetes, acid in the eyes, nails driven into the skull, starvation, beatings, drinking concrete, and/or being forced to sit on a fire. Some of these children are as young as two years old.

I think the reason this cause strikes such a chord with me is that when I was a child, my family suffered a great deal of misfortune. It’s simply by virtue of the fact that I was born into a culture that doesn’t take witchcraft seriously as a general rule (anymore), that I made it to adulthood unscathed. Location, location, location.

Child witchcraft is a sick, brutal, warped cultural belief borne of ignorance and financial desperation. These practices must be stopped. Please join me in supporting Safe Child Africa to protect these children and restore some semblance of life to them.

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Compassion

Compassion, defined as the “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings and misfortunes of others,” is something you either have or you don’t. At this moment in history, perhaps more than any other, it is obvious that no fence-sitting on this issue is acceptable. Pick a side. Own it.

One shouldn’t have to have experienced tragedy to feel compassion for others who are experiencing it. The human brain has evolved enough to allow us all to imagine situations that we have not gone through ourselves. Compassion can be learned. It should have been modeled for us by our parents if we were raised in a functional household. Religions spend a lot of time focusing on this subject as well. “Do unto others…” is all about compassion.

But part of it is also instinctual. If you see someone smash his or her thumb with a hammer, it should be natural to wince and think, “That’s got to hurt.” It would be normal to have that thought even if you’ve never held a hammer in your life.

So when I hear that the White House’s budget proposal would defund Meals on Wheels because “it’s not showing results”, I am horrified. I immediately think of one 75 year old invalid who wouldn’t otherwise eat a healthy meal. I think of the fact that she has so little human contact, and looks forward to this visit each day. I think of how she’s been able to stay out of a nursing home at taxpayer’s expense because she’s still independent enough to manage as long as someone checks on her daily.

When I hear that the White House wants to take money away from the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Parks Service, I am appalled. I think of the future generations who will not know the beauty and health that is provided by a sustainable planet.

When I read that guns can once again be placed in the hands of the mentally unstable, I am horrorstruck. I cannot imagine what possible good this will do for society, but I certainly can anticipate the tragedies it will create. I also ache for the families of past victims, who must be devastated by this outrage.

When I hear that people want to pour even more money into our already over-bloated military budget, I am revolted. I think of the death and destruction and domination and pain and anguish that is the end result of every single war, no matter how justified we think that war may be.

When I read about immigrants, illegal or otherwise, who are ripped away from their families, and/or prevented from trying to break the chains of poverty, I am ashamed. I think of my own family history and wonder what would have become of me if my ancestors were beaten down by this same heartless stick.

I really don’t understand people who don’t have compassion. I didn’t realize until recently that there are so many of them out there. And many of them claim to be religious. What am I missing? It sickens me.

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Child Witch Hysteria

Every day in Africa, hundreds of children are declared to be witches. Once this happens, their lives are effectively over. They are tortured for confessions, abandoned by their families or murdered by villagers. Schools will no longer teach them. Hospitals will no longer treat them.

These children are blamed for any family misfortune. Disease, miscarriage, unemployment, death in the family…all these things surely must be because the most vulnerable among us is a witch. You can also be considered a witch simply by virtue of being born with a deformity. It is claimed that these children feast on human flesh. They are stigmatized, feared, and cast out by society.

This practice has experienced an extreme resurgence this century, mainly thanks to the movies put out by the Liberty Gospel Church, an extreme Pentecostal sect in Nigeria that combines a weird brand of Christianity with ancient cultural beliefs in witchcraft. One of their movies, “End of the Wicked” goes into graphic details about these witches, and claims that this information is in the bible, and that these things are all facts.

A lot of the adherence to this practice probably has to do with the extreme poverty in which these people live. They are unable to support these children, and witchcraft is an effective excuse for society to abandon them. It’s really the only “acceptable” excuse.

To exact confessions from these kids, people will beat them, deprive them of food, put acid in their eyes, force them to sit on fires, or drive nails into their skulls. Once a “confession” is exacted, many of these children are buried alive, or have stones tied to their legs and then are thrown off bridges, are abandoned in the bush, or are poisoned.

A big industry has grown up to take advantage of those parents who do not want their children to suffer from this stigma. Unscrupulous people claim that they can exorcise the witches, and it will “only” cost a year’s income. If the parents can’t pay, these evil people will hold the child captive, torturing them all the while, until the parents pay up.

According to Wikipedia, this practice is common in Angola, Gambia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Congo, and Ethiopia. This movie on Youtube, entitled Dispatches: Saving Africa’s Witch Children, will tell you all about the practice in Nigeria. I have to warn you that it will also break your heart.

I cannot stress enough the importance of education to combat these horrible beliefs. Until then, though, these children need to be protected, housed, educated and treated so that they can reclaim what little childhood may be left to them.

If you would like to help these children, please join me in donating to Safe Child Africa. Since it’s a British-based organization, your donations will be in pounds, not dollars, but they do accept credit cards.

If you are reading this on a computer or another electronic device, chances are you are much better off than these children will ever be. Take a moment to appreciate that. And please help if you can.

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The “witches” of Africa thank you.

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