Two people come into a room to discuss differing viewpoints. Each carries with them their own biases and life narrative that frames the perspective that they hold. Each also carries within reactive emotional stances that are cultivated in living an emotional life devoid of an appropriate outlet. The exchange is a confrontation and conflict by its very construct.
Culture asserts rules of conformity to reinforce social cohesion. People know their place and operate within a strict doctrine of social etiquette. These rules are only visible through the rituals that they enforce within social institutions which reinforce compliance…
In a school the loud speaker booms overhead, “Please rise for the Pledge of Allegiance”.
In a courtroom the bailiff stand to announce the entrance of the judge, “All rise… The Superior Court of Skagit County is now in session”.
Within these small examples comes an assignment of status and defines a role that one is expected to fill. Blame is the construct of a society demanding conformity from citizens.
Individuals use blame to deflect or abdicate personal and institutional responsibility. Those in positions of authority are in the best position to use the tactic. These individuals find themselves buffered by rituals that reinforce their superiority. The more that blame is used, the less real interaction actually takes place. The dynamics in these scenarios favor one side and minimize, if not nullify the input of others. It is the epitome of a top-down hierarchy.
People who accept this dynamic find themselves in positions to enforce the same rhetorical hegemony. Their egos support the maintenance of status quo over the basic rights and civil liberties of others and their compliance is rewarded with materialistic advantages.
Lopsided Power plays
Case #1: The Case against a Single Mother facing CPS Proceedings
During work with a young woman who had lost custody of her children, allegations of a “Bipolar Disorder” came to light within Child Protective Service documentation that I reviewed. Since multiple physical diagnoses had been given, the client had been being maintained on a slew of medications prescribed by the physician who had made the original “Bipolar” diagnosis. With the tremendous amount of drugs, some prescribed for a condition that did not exist, the client’s behavior was erratic. The erratic and irrational behavior created the incentive for the removal of the children but an investigation into the authenticity of the claims was never conducted.
I was able to track down the origination of the diagnosis and discovered that it had been made by a local physician known by CPS to have some significant problems managing and treating clients. Despite the fact that it had been some time since the children were removed and it took some time to get her an evaluation by an independent professional, he concluded that the diagnosis was in error. CPS continued to overlook the fact that her behaviors stabilized when the medications were properly being administered and overseen by respected professionals within the community. The children remained out of her custody and mandated expectations multiplied to provide “proof of her ability to parent”.
In CPS proceedings the clock starts ticking as soon as the children are removed from their families’ of origin. All issues complicating reunification for safety reasons are to be resolved within one calendar year regardless of: the lack of credible information that precipitated the removal of the children in the first place; lack of timely evaluations, lack of timely treatment referrals being made by CPS; the inherent conflict of interest in which CPS appoints “independent” community professionals to write up supporting statements to back assertions made by CPS; lack of consistent expectations; repeated turnover of CPS staff, poor communication between biological families and staff; and duplicitous alignment with foster families over that of biological families.
The stage had already been set for disaster. The department was not interested in why the young woman had acted irrationally nor was interested in looking into the implications that the slew of unneeded prescriptions had on her behavior. By withholding her children, delaying precious time, without interest into the credibility of the charges, the stage was set to seal this young woman’s fate. When institutional power encourages and rewards a blind eye by those it compensates monetarily, justice is not just blind, but deaf and dumb as well!
Case #2: Treatment Facility Bias and Punitive Interventions: Power from the Court
The coordinator of a local drug court was facilitating a group with me in a treatment center that held the drug court contract for the local county where I lived. She confronted the group though accusing them of being complicit with a participating member who had come up with a “dirty” urinalysis, testing positive for a substance. She demanded the group member who was positive admit to using. Clearly uncomfortable, the 12 women in attendance took turns looking at each other and shifted uneasily in their seats.
The counselor looked over at me as the co-facilitator expecting me to agree with her tactics. I immediately felt uncomfortable. She looked away to continue her harassment of the ladies in attendance. By the time that she was finished, she was yelling at them, calling them names and demanding that those in attendance expose the woman who had tested positive.
I felt compelled to speak against this tactic. I knew the person who had the dirty urinalysis and knew from my sessions with her that she professed to be clean. I felt the harassment and berating being used were abusive to all in attendance and I did not agree with the tactics being employed to elicit information. I may have had deep seated feelings about what was transpiring but as a single mother of three needing a job to support my family, I kept quiet.
In front of the group, the coordinator identified the client and reprimanded her about the dirty urinalysis while threatening her with jail time. The client was visibly shaken. During break she was abandoned by the other clients to deal with her misery on her own. Clients knew if they were to console her, they would face sanction as well, regardless of their personal feeling of her innocence or guilt in the matter.
Still denying the use, she came to me in tears. I knew that I was in no “position” as a subordinate to question the tactics and at the same time ask for a more open minded approach to the client. Instead I told her to make an appointment with her physician and discuss with him the possible reasons for the dirty urinalysis. By getting authorities in a better position than I, more independent of the agency and with more status and power to back her stance, she would be in a better position to confront the allegations.
In court that week she came with a letter from a MD. She had a dirty urinalysis because she was borderline diabetic. If I had not helped her to “position” in the situation, she would have been jailed, her sense of self-esteem obliterated, and a very real physical condition would not have been addressed.
Get the Facts Straight:
Blame is a coward’s way of avoiding a meaningful conversation.
Blame is asserted to reinforce status and power without a fair consideration of issues.
Blame is hidden in diagnoses which reinforce stigma and propaganda about groups of people.
Blame is hidden in the assertion of biological conditions for human behavior deviance creating and preserving the pathological focus and the medicalization of rehabilitation efforts.
Blame is hidden in warnings given about people with different ideas as being potential aberrant personalities.
Where bias coincides in judgment, there can be no justice or human advancement!