"Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." – Martin Luther King Jr.
A breakup. Bullying or harassment at work. Traumatic events such as combat or rape. The path to healing after events like these may be boobytrapped, but if we know where to look, we can shimmy our way toward wisdom.
One common mental boobytrap: how we make sense of misfortune. People want to believe that the world is fair — that good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people. Psychologists refer to this as the just-world fallacy, our deeply rooted, biased belief that people get what they “deserve.”
This is pretty fraught, though, isn’t it? It implies that when bad things happen to us, we must be bad; if good things happen, we must be good. If we pause for a moment, I’m sure you can come up with plenty of examples of good things happening to people who have behaved “badly,” or awful things happening to people who behave in thoughtful, kind ways.
💡The belief in a just world can be oriented to one’s self, “I deserved this good/bad thing,” or to others, “They got what they deserved.” Individuals who have a stronger other-orientation can be more likely to hold harsh social attitudes or engage in victim-blaming, due to the belief that the other person must have done something to “deserve” a negative event.
People with the tendency to apply the just-world fallacy to themselves can be more likely to help others or be more confident in achieving future goals, believing their efforts will be rewarded. There is a darker side. This tendency can keep us mired in shame or self-blame, or we might become intensely angry when faced with perceived injustice.
In truth, the world is not fair — that doesn’t mean that striving towards justice is futile. While the world has a way of knocking us off balance, our individual wisdom comes from how we learn to stand up, dust ourselves off, and keep working to create a world that is increasingly just, for everyone.
Take good care,
Ph.D. Clinical Psychology
Think of a time when you perceived injustice. What thoughts crossed your mind as this occurred? What emotions did you experience? Where did you feel this in your body?
Following this reflection, do a movement practice that feels healthy to your body. Think about how you might do something constructive to address the situation. Does this feel safe and healing to you? It can help to talk things through with a neutral party, to journal, or to consider how others have fought for justice in ways that are effective and compassionate.
Perhaps the ultimate injustice is the untimely death of the dinosaurs. Rather than recommending reading material this week, we’d like to share a moment of levity with you. Here's musician Tom Rosenthal and his daughter, Fenn, with a viral song about dinosaurs in love.
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