CHENNAI: In the West there is an English phrase ‘making someone a scapegoat.’ It refers to a person or group of people who pick on someone who is weaker. Often, they use this person to blame for faults they have or mistakes they have made.
Sometimes we may make a person a scapegoat, but there are also times that an entire segment of society uses another group, such as a cultural group, socio-economic group, or gender as a scapegoat.
The result is that one person picks on another mercilessly, or a group gangs up on another group of people to make their lives miserable. This is a form of violence that needs to be weeded out. We need to be firm in our principles, even if sometimes we may be alone in not picking on someone when others are engaged in that merciless behaviour.
It is interesting that the concept of the scapegoat comes from The Bible, which recorded life in ancient times. In the Old Testament, which is divided into many books, the Book of Leviticus describes a sacred custom, which was named ‘the escaped goat.’ The custom was that when the problems of the people became too overwhelming for them to deal with, they found a healthy male goat and brought it to the temple. The high priest would then place his hand on the head of the goat and read out the list of problems that the people had compiled. Through this ceremony, all the problems, pains, and anguish of the people were supposed to be transferred to the goat. Then, they set the goat free to wander away.
They believed that when the goat wandered off, it took their problems with them, freeing them from their sorrows. They came to call this the ‘escaped goat.’ Now, the term has been shortened to ‘scapegoat.’
While the tradition of putting a list of problems onto a goat is no longer carried out, the concept of the scapegoat is still alive. It is recognised as taking out one’s problems on someone else. Instead of taking responsibility for our own shortcomings, failures, and mistakes, we take them out on someone else.
There are many subtle ways in which we make others a scapegoat. This often starts in childhood when the older brother or sister breaks something in the house. When the parents discover the broken jar or glass, the older sibling points to the younger, helpless brother or sister and says, “He (or she) did it.”
In society, it can be a whole cultural group that makes another cultural group the scapegoat. They blame all society’s problems on that one group, and then there is prejudice and bigotry directed against that group. This has also happened in cultures around the world throughout history.
What no one realises is the pain that this causes the person who is treated like a scapegoat. Just think what it would be like to have people criticise you, call you insulting names, and put the blame of everything that goes wrong on you. People may hurt you with actions or their words, but it hurts just the same. One feels isolated and alone when a whole community turns on you just because they consider you weaker. Why do they consider someone weaker? Maybe someone is a nice person and does not criticise or hurt others, so people take it as a sign of weakness. Maybe there is a physical characteristic that others have, such as being too short, or too tall, or wearing glasses, and because others have their own physical defects, they do not want anyone to notice, so they shift attention to one person.
We need to introspect into our own lives to see that we do not make anyone a scapegoat. We need to analyse how we treat others in our families, in our workplace, in organisations in which we work, and in our community to see that we do not create scapegoats.
If we find someone made into a scapegoat, we need to go out of our way to make that person feel welcome and loved. We need to be the helping hand to help the scapegoat feel a cherished member of the community.
Everyone thinks he or she is perfect and can do no wrong. Let us not put our problems onto one person. Let us take responsibility for our own problems and then correct those mistakes. In this way we will be developing nonviolence in thought, word, and deed, and the development of the virtue of nonviolence will speed us on the way back to God.