Who Did It?

Our three-year old granddaughter Tali is very concerned about “Who did it?” My wife Erin got a staple stuck in her finger at work the other day, and since it started to bleed she put a bandage on it. When she came home and Tali saw her finger, she asked (with an appropriately stern expression on her face), “Who did it?” The same thing happened a few nights before that when she saw me struggling to sit down when my back was hurting. “What’s wrong, Bapa? Who did it?” When I told her that my back hurt and that I had done it to myself, I was clearly covering up for the perpetrator, and so she repeated the question, “No, who did it?”

In the world of day care, “Who did it” is an important question. Kids will be kids, and probably several times a day someone comes to the day care teacher crying after some minor infraction and is met with the question, “Who did it.” In that context, it’s a very important question. When Tali asks it, the question is unbelievable cute. When, as adults, we get stuck on the question of “Who did it?” we start to walk down a dangerous, and largely irrelevant, path. Our national obsession around “Who did it?” at the World Trade Centers – despite the fact that we knew very well who did it and that they died in the process – led to two wars, countless deaths, countless billions of dollars in direct expense and indirect fiscal loss in the financial collapse of 2008, moneys being shifted away from the poor and disenfranchised and into the pockets of the wealthy and powerful, and untold world-wide suffering. Like Tali, our nation wanted to know who did it and, like Tali, when the truth was unacceptable we continued to look for someone to blame. For a three-year old, that’s appropriate. For adults, it reflects severe spiritual and moral retardation.

You see, “Who did it?” stops being of primary importance somewhere between three seconds and three days after an event occurs. Certainly, if a crime has been committed against a person or persons the perpetrator needs to be brought to justice. That doesn’t change that after a few days at most the primary question is no longer “Who did it?” but rather “Where do we go from here?” A fixation on “Who did it?” keeps us locked in a past that is no longer available or accessible to us. On the other hand, “Where do we go from here?” brings us right into the present moment, which we can impact. I have long suspected that many of us focus on the past as a way of avoiding actually moving forward, of actually taking responsibility for ourselves, because behaving like an adult can be scary – but if we are to live a full life then act like adults we must.

And so I ask you, “Where do you go from here?”


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