Does Finding the Cause Really Matter?

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I’ve been reading a book that a friend lent me about Pygmies in the congo.  It’s called The Forest People by Turnbull.  I’m at the part right now where the author is describing Pygmy justice, which is closely entwined with religion and the practicalities of survival.  


The point that strikes me the most at the moment is how, when there is a grievance, for example when someone steals food, or commits incest, or insults someone or what not.  There is no emphasis, no interest even, with determining who’s fault it is. It seems like quite a contrast with our own culture which is very interested in assigning blame and determining who the guilty party is.  It’s hard to imagine any approach to justice that could


function with a different primary value.  Even the word justice implies punishment of the guilty, as in “seeing justice done”.


If it doesn’t matter whose guilty, what does matter?


This idea of assigning fault to a guilty party has affected us in ways beyond our legal system.  It’s a basic premise in health care too that we need to determine what the culprit is. I often hear clients and others say, “I want to understand what’s going on.”  “I want to know what’s causing this.”

But what if there were a more useful value than figuring out who, or what, to blame?


We can focus on returning to harmony within and between systems.


The value that’s more important to the Pygmies is maintaining the tribal family unit’s ability to cooperate.  If the group does not cooperate then everyone’s survival is threatened, because they have to work together to successfully hunt game.  They must not only cooperate with each other, but also cooperate with the Forest, which is to them the source of all life. Even a person who has a righteous position will be punished by the group if they are making too much noise, or dividing the group into factions.  They will be punished through ridicule or other means until the ability to cooperate has returned to the group, and the group is in harmony with the Forest.


Perhaps it would serve us, in our quest for health to focus a bit less on determining what the culprit is and more on returning to harmony.  Harmony within our own body-mind, as well as harmony between our body-mind and the world that we live in.


We are so habituated to the value of assigning blame that it can be a hard thing to put down.  A lot of arguments start to come up.


In the book it seems like the Pygmies have a genuine ability to completely forgive and forget an injustice only moments after being obsessed by it.  It’s hard to imagine that there aren’t tensions that have been suppressed. But to think that is to impose on them our own value that seeing justice carried out is more important than regaining our ability to cooperate.


I think it’s important to remember that looking for a cause (or a guilty party), and working first to return harmony to the system are not values that are completely in opposition to each other.  Just like pursuing income and pursuing lifestyle are not completely opposed to each other. It doesn’t have to be an either/or choice…either we look for a cause or we focus on returning harmony.  However, there are times when we would make different choices if we knew which one we were holding as the higher value.

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