I have been cooking with the idea of blame all week. Seems like there is so much to go around these days – The Syria dilemma, government deficits, poor performing schools…, the list goes on. What keeps rising up for me is the ease with which we can point the finger at someone or an institution or organization that we believe is ‘responsible’ for our discomfort or pain and how little effort we put into understanding the complexities of the problem. (Remember, you may not believe something is complex, but we all have our blind spots) All of those examples I mentioned are multi-faceted and complicated. If we stop and recognize this, as well as acknowledge the likelihood that we do not know all the facts or have all the answers, I’m thinking that pointing the finger of blame would become a much less frequent occurrence.
What happens when you blame someone for something? Do you feel better having identified ‘the cause’ of the problem (and that it isn’t you)? Does knowing this help bring any resolution to the issue or does it simply make you more secure in the ‘knowing’ of why something unpleasant occurred (because certainty in life feels better)? Have you ever blamed someone for something only to find out later that you were shy on the facts and utterly wrong about who was at fault? Geez, that sounds alot worse to me than being more open minded about what’s potentially happening here.
I want to clarify that I am not talking here about when people simply disagree with one another on a topic. Disagreeing is a part of our daily interaction with the world and when done well, provides an opportunity for shared understanding and learning. Blaming is pointing the finger of fault (and is often accompanied by a smug sense of how right I am about this)
When I observe an exchange between people who are at odds about who is to blame for a situation, it’s like a super vacuum has been turned on, sucking all of the possible constructive energy out of the room. There isn’t one positive outcome that results from these kinds of interactions that I can see. (I’d like to call them conversations but I don’t want to degrade the image of what a true conversation is) As a matter of fact, just the opposite happens – relationships are often damaged and negative judgments made about the other’s intellect or character.
Think of those times when you are in a group, or even just one on one with someone, and the blame game starts. Is this a safe place to offer an alternative view? Is your understanding of the issues enhanced? More importantly, is the end result of the discussion better or more satisfying?
I think I can honestly say that I have acquired a sort of chronic fatigue syndrome around blaming. When I start to hear someone doing it (or when I realize I am doing it), I am moved to take some steps to put a stop to it. Each situation is unique but what I am finding to be most successful is to start asking questions. Not in a confrontational way, but simply to provide space for a more expansive conversation to occur, with the hope that the blaming component will fade away.
When you let blaming behavior go on unchecked, there is a sense of implied agreement or support. If you are as tired of it as I am, take a stab at bringing it to a halt. If this is not your usual way of behaving, it will be a bit uncomfortable at first and it is likely to raise some eyebrows. But as is the case with every new action, practice makes it come easier next time. I bet you will be surprised by the results!
(If you have established a successful way of stopping or even preventing blaming, please post it to this blog. We will all be better for it)