Belief in a Just World

– By Sharon Ashton and Raksha Dave-Gates (Counselling Psychologists)

It is human nature to search for cause-and-effect explanations of the events in our lives and in the world around us.  Believingthat things happen in a logical manner is very useful because it leads us to actively make positive choices in many areas of our life.  For example, we may focus on eating well, getting adequate exercise, and avoiding exposure to toxic substances because we wish to have the best possible chance of enjoying robust health and well-being throughout life.  Or, we may pursue our careers diligently and use our earnings wisely, with the intent of reaching a goal of financialcomfort.  In addition to expecting that good behaviors will be rewarded, weassume that punishment or “bad luck” is the result of harmful or negative behaviors. The direct link we make between good behavior-good outcome and bad behavior-bad outcome forms the basis of a hypothetical unconscious belief system that has been dubbed a “Belief in a Just World.”

Quite often, making sense of things that happen toourselves and to others is just not this simple. We really don’t have to look too far to find examples that defy cause-and-effect explanations for real-life events.  For example, people win the lottery without doing anything more to deserve the windfall than thousands of others who also bought tickets.  “Bad”things can and do happen to “good” people who just happen to be in the wrongplace when misfortune strikes.  The most recent example was the loss of morethan 150,000 innocent lives when, without warning, a Boxing Day tsunami wreakedwide-spread havoc in Indonesia, India, Thailand, and Sri Lanka.  Since that day, scientists have soothed our human thirst for causality by providing geological explanations for the occurrence of this tsunami via reports in newspapers,television and radio. Meanwhile, in Asia, thousands of survivors struggle with guilt over the injustice of being spared themselves when others they knew orloved were swept away. One source of guilt occurs when survivors believe that they also deserved to perish because they failed to do something heroic to save another’s life.  In circumstances like these, survivors’ expectations of what they “should” or “could” have done are bound to be unrealistic, given the lack of warning and the incredible force of the tsunami.

Since Boxing Day, the world has continued to respond to these devastated regions with a generous outpouring of resources and financial donations. The victims have desperately needed this assistance, without adoubt, and will continue to depend on our good will as they go about the business of rebuilding their lives.  As donors, we receive psychological benefit from the increase in security we experience as we witness communities and countries extending compassion in the most difficult of times.

Counseling services are available for those who would likehelp in dealing with distress as a result of the tsunami tragedy.  Sliding scale fee arrangements are standard at agencies like Calgary Family Services, Catholic Family Services, Calgary Counselling Center, and Jewish Family Services. Hospice Calgary has offered to provide specialized grief counselling to individuals, or families with teenagers or children who are suffering from griefor trauma after the tsunami tragedy.  Counsellors in private practice are advertised in the yellow pages, beginning on page 501.  You may also access a short list of psychologists in your area at the web site, www.psychologistsassociation.ab.ca.