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Human tragedies require healing, not blame

alaa-alghambdismall|By Alaa Alghamdi| Tragedies in Mecca recently were shocking and devastating to witness, for everyone in the world, and most particularly for us in Saudi Arabia. This stronghold of our traditions and faith, during which we host the world in allowing access to our most sacred places, has a unique and central spot in the hearts of our people. Over the years it has been marred by several tragedies, this recent one having been one of the worst.

Tragedies such as these, with a high death count, are always difficult to accept and process. It is natural, perhaps, to look for someone to blame, as one does in almost any tragedy. In fact, this is human nature. I believe it to be one of the stages of grieving, as outlined by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. When faced with a tragedy, we deny, we are angry, and we attempt to ‘bargain’ – to find ways for the tragedy to be reversed or undone, for it not to be so.

The tendency to lay blame is, I believe, a combination of the emotions inherent in both anger and bargaining. If we can find who or what is to blame, we can find a way, if only in our minds, that it could be not so. And, we tell ourselves we can absolutely prevent such things from occurring in the future, if only we can remove that faulty element, that thing that was to blame.

This is only partially valid. Of course, we should investigate tragic accidents, of any scale, to come to grips with what has occurred and to take reasonable measures to prevent a recurrence. To this end, an investigation of the events of September 24 is still taking place. I have no doubt that several measures will be put into place to prevent tragedies from ever happening again.

Beyond taking reasonable preventative measures, however, I also believe we must come to terms with the fact that tragic events are, to a certain degree, unpreventable and uncontrollable. When the disaster is natural, such as an earthquake or flood, we call it an Act of God – even insurance companies in the most secular societies use that terminology, simply because, to a great degree, it is true. Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, it is undeniable that certain events are beyond human control.

Acts of God are not limited to elements of nature. They extend to accidents, of timing, of physics, of phenomena for which human or mechanical error is not the primary factor. When these accidents are tragic, it is natural that we grieve, and it is, perhaps, natural to want to lay blame. But we must accept that there are things that we have control over, and there are things that we don’t. There are things that we can change, and we have the responsibility to do so – and then there are things that we cannot. According to Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the final stage of grieving is acceptance, and with it comes healing. The tragedy at Mecca is still very recent, and perhaps we cannot expect to have reached that stage yet, but I hope we are moving closer to it.