Q: Dear TWIMC
My husband recently passed away after a long, debilitating illness that he contracted as a direct result of the job he was doing.
His employers have spent years as well as millions of dollars to avoid taking any responsibility. They have also gone out of their way to avoid paying any compensation to my family and thousands of other people who were affected.
The managers of this company have just recently been found guilty of actively avoiding compensating people. I have been waiting for this for what seems like forever, but they’ve really only been fined and barred from running any other companies for a few years.
In the scheme of things, these people will only be mildly inconvenienced by these penalties, whereas thousands of people are suffering illnesses as a result of their actions. How is it that people who have acted so appallingly are allowed to continue their careers, and escape with only minor scrapes?
I’m not a vengeful person but I feel very ripped off to see that they won’t experience anywhere near the level of suffering that I’ve been through.
Why does their punishment have such an effect on my happiness?
A: What terrible losses you have suffered K.B. Why shouldn’t this injustice affect your happiness? A token punishment is worse than none, as it provides the illusion of retribution. It is a false point of closure. You have been ripped off. That is simply the ugly truth. Don’t rip yourself off further by expecting to be happy in the face of this outrage. Unhappiness does not make you a victim, but allows you to continue to live authentically.
I’m not sure where we got the idea that we should be emotionally immune to the actions of others. Perhaps it is simply a misinterpretation of some of the great philosophers, who encouraged us to find meaning in our suffering. Somewhere in the mistranslation, anger has been demonized. We are now encouraged to take the time we need to grieve, but pressed to move quickly through anger. Anger is an adaptive response to any suffering perpetrated by others. Allow yourself the time you need, however long. You have been betrayed, lost your husband to a preventable illness, and your suffering has been ignored and undervalued. You have much about which to be angry.
One way to view happiness is as the result of finding meaning and purpose in life, rather than as a state we can simply invoke through will. It is the result of purposeful action and circumstance, not simply an internally willed experience. Anger and sadness are the essential prelude to the joy that comes piercing through the chest in the most unexpected of moments. The Persian poet and philosopher Rumi is helpful here.
Don’t turn your head. Keep looking at the bandaged place. That’s where the light enters you.
I feel anger reading your question. That you and so many others have suffered unnecessarily. That you have not been acknowledged or compensated. And I have no answer for you as to why this has happened. However I do understand that you are forced by this tragedy to find an answer to this question, in order make sense of yourself and the world in the light of this new and terrible information. The closest I can come to an answer is in the pages of Alice Miller’s book about tyranny and complicity, For Your Own Good, where she makes the link between unacknowledged pain and the subsequent abuse of others. If this is true, then your feelings here hold an even greater importance. They are part of the road to preventing the amnesia that allows repetition.
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