Tolerating Others’ Pain

I’ve been thinking about the Rotherham abuse scandal: all those girls suffering for so long, so visibly and yet so many people (care workers, police, teachers, relatives) seemingly turning a blind eye. What was it about those girls that they didn’t want to see? Something about them made them invisible, or at least easy to rationalise away. Those people may well have told themselves, ‘She was asking for it, dressed like that’ or something else on those lines. And the girls themselves may well have been hard to reach. Already excluded from their families, their suffering may well have been masked by anger, aggression, detachment and even violence. People who are hurting emotionally aren’t fun to be around. Of course, none of this makes ignoring what was happening ok or justified. It does remind us how it can often feel easier to blame the victim. That way we avoid getting in touch with their pain, anger and torment – and when we get in touch, really in touch, with their pain we can’t help but feel some of our own, even if it’s very different in its origin. Perhaps that is why it can be so hard for us to tolerate others’ pain; and to take responsibility for whatever it is we can do to try to help them with it.

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