Johnson drew on her experience as an employment lawyer to explain why some types of lawsuits were easier to win than others. She learned that jurors are reluctant to hold an employer liable for discrimination against the handicapped because they are reluctant to attribute such base motives to someone else. It’s disturbing to think, after all, that a person could be harassed or fired through no fault of their own, i.e. because of their physical disability.
However people do understand someone acting on a personal grudge or resentment, because they are more candid in recognizing that they themselves have acted from such motives. Thus, Johnson, said it’s much easier to win a verdict based on a claim of retaliatory behavior, which they will admit is understandable, even though wrong.
As Johnson puts it, “People don’t like to believe that unfair things happen.”
She cites articles which show a widespread belief that since “the world is basically fair and just, thus, people who have horrible things happen to them involving other human beings must have brought it on themselves.” Facing Uncomfortable Truths Means Opening Ourselves To Pain, 2-9-15.
I now recall that a character in Garrison Keillor’s “Lake Wobegon Days” makes a similar observation: “Anyhow, I was brought up to believe that whatever happens to people is their own fault. There were few, if any, disasters that you couldn’t explain by citing the mistakes made by the victims, e.g. ‘She never should have been there in the first place.’ Even if you had to go back 30 years, you could find where they took the wrong fork in the road that led directly to their house burning down, their car being hit by a truck, their hands being eaten by a corn-picker.”
Just in my own circle of acquaintances I’ve noticed this pattern.
The murder of elderly Jewish tourist Leon Klinghoffer on the cruise ship Achille Lauro by Arab terrorists?
“Don’t you know that that old man must have really mouthed off for them to shoot him in his wheel chair and throw him in the ocean!”
No, actually, I don’t.
The death by anthrax poisoning of a 63 year old magazine editor in Florida, a 68 year old retired nurse in New York, and a 94 year old retired teacher in Connecticut in the immediate aftermath of 9-11?” You see, coke dealers are in the practice of sending out free samples in the mail. When the three people who died of anthrax opened envelopes containing the white powder that was anthrax, they snorted it, thinking it was cocaine. So if they hadn’t been coke heads, this never would have happened to them!”
Okay, that seems very likely, given the demographic profiles of the victims and the well-known generosity of drug dealers.
A friend who is in his early fifties goes in to see a doctor for splitting headaches, is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and is dead within weeks?
“He knew a long time before but chose to neglect his condition and this is what happened. He just had to have known!”
A little girl is taken from her home in the middle of the night by a total stranger and then raped and murdered?
“You know the story on that, don’t you? Her parents were part of a swingers club 15 years before- the girl was 10- so they brought this on themselves!”
Believe it or not these bizarre, tortured, rationalizations are meant as a defense mechanism. I don’t do anything wrong, I follow all the rules so nothing bad will happen to me!
Of course, bad things do happen to good people, through no fault of their own, so the only logical response is for them to blame themselves, if they’ve swallowed this way of thinking.
I’d be interested in hearing from you if you’ve encountered this mentality.
Is it a Mid-Western thing? A WASP thing? A generational thing? A hangover from the Puritan tradition in Protestantism, even though the attendant religious beliefs that go with it have fallen away?