This is also true with assessing blame for things. Not long ago, perhaps fifty years or so, we were more accepting of the fact that accidents sometimes happen, and that they are the fallout of many factors, including the involvement of human beings in the situation. I use the word “fallout” deliberately, since the word “accident” comes from the Latin accidens, meaning “that which ‘falls alongside’ of something.” Many unfortunate events have complex origins, a kind of witch’s brew or perfect storm of factors that come together. For example, an accident at a processing plant might involve a combination of human error, improper maintenance, lax safety precautions, poor training, a sleepy employee, a rush order, etc. It is almost never just one thing.
In the absence of malice or extreme negligence, we were once more willing to admit that sometimes accidents just happen and that we should concentrate on improving the situation. Today the more frequent response is to look for someone (hopefully someone with deep pockets) to blame so that lawsuits can be brought.
Further, there was more acceptance of so-called “acts of God” such as storms and earthquakes. These, too, were things we chalked up to unfortunate circumstances, which we all had to expect and factor in. For example, if it snowed everyone was expected to use caution by walking more carefully, discerning whether work or other activities should be cancelled, and generally factoring in the presence of snow and ice. Today, however, if someone slips and falls on my sidewalk it is assumed to be my fault for not shoveling it well enough. Even if I made some effort to clear it, if I didn’t achieve a perfect surface I might be sued.
I remember one bitter cold morning when an angry parishioner pointed to ice in the parking lot and said, “Look at your parking lot; it’s covered with ice!” I responded to her with some mirth, “I swear I didn’t do it!” She smiled, realizing that we all too often look for someone to blame. Sometimes ice just can’t reasonably be removed in time or even at all. So we all need to adjust and proceed with caution.
Today we frequently look for someone to blame; we expect comfort and a sort of perfection without any difficulties or dangers. Life is a little more complex than that.
In this post, I do not propose to find the definitive answer as to what should be punished/fined and what should be chalked up to unfortunate circumstances. This is more of a light-hearted reflection that occurred to me as I watched this video, which I hope you will enjoy.
Msgr. Charles Pope • November 6, 2015