Tag Archives: blame

Blame and responsibility

Blame is one of the least useful things we can go in for. It shuts down conversation, breaks relationships and all too often makes it impossible to come up with any kind of productive resolution. We go in for blame to protect ourselves from feeling bad about our own shortcomings – if we can out the blame squarely on someone else we can hang on to the illusion that we are fine, lovely, good people. Owning mistakes hurts. Equally, when we accept the blame, we can be demoralised, crushed even, by the value-judgements that go alongside being blamed. Worthless. Useless. Failure.

Taking responsibility is a powerful thing. Where blame is usually a blanket, and not very specific, responsibility requires us to unpick things. To take responsibility you have to know where things went awry, and what precisely could have been done that bit better. There’s scope for a learning process that takes you forward, safe in the knowledge that next time there will be new and different mistakes.

Blame cultures breed denial. If the consequence of owning a mistake is that you will be humiliated and shamed, there’s not much incentive to own the errors. In a culture that prizes responsibility, stepping forward to say where things went wrong is an honourable action for which you should be thanked. Most of the time things go wrong because of misjudgements, genuine errors, well meant attempts that were wide of the mark. Most of the time, those can be dealt with well once they are exposed and scrutinised.

Sometimes, there are people who are just mean and unreasonable. There are problems not born of honest mistakes but of a genuine desire to inflict suffering. If you come back with a blame response to one of those, the most likely outcome is that you will escalate things. People who mean to cause pain are not people who will shoulder responsibility for resolving it. What you’ll get instead is a flash of narcissistic rage perhaps, or some defensive lashing out to preserve that person’s sense of worth and dignity. If you think that someone else is genuinely to blame for a problem, the responsible action can simply be to get the hell out of there and reduce the scope for them to do something similar again.

How do you tell if you are the victim or the villain in a blame situation? How do you tell if you are blithely projecting your negativity onto someone else, or defending your crapness by blaming it on another? Look to the blame itself. If your impulse is to blame, and to push responsibility away from you, then regardless of what is going on in a situation, you’ve got issues that need looking at. If your impulse is to unpick problems and work out balances of responsibility with a view to making things better, you’re going the right way. If your inclination is to take the blame and internalise a sense of fault, this is not proof that you are the bad guy, nor is it proof that you are some kind of long suffering saint. What it means is that you have an unhelpful way of thinking about things, and you would be better off ditching it in favour of a more balanced approach.

If you’re faced with people who blame, then it is easy to internalise all the things they refuse to be responsible for. I’ve been there, and I’ve got t-shirts. There is a trap in letting yourself feel noble and self-sacrificing as you absorb someone else’s toxic output. I’ve done that too, and it’s not something I’m proud of, not least because it didn’t solve anything and just left me in a worse state. If there is shared responsibility, you have a strong relationship, a strong community. If there is just blame, it is never going to be good. Sometimes the responsible choice, is to go somewhere else.


A hungry world

I heard a story yesterday about a girl collapsing in school, because it had been so long since she’d last eaten. In some parts of the world, the curious bits would be that a poor child was in school in the first place, and a girl-child at that. Hunger and deprivation are normal for so many people. But this wasn’t a developing world story, it came from a few miles down the road, from the green and pleasant heart of England, where that sort of thing isn’t supposed to happen anymore.

In this country of wealth and plenty, no child should have to go hungry to the point of collapse. Our government should hang its collective heads in shame that they have allowed such a situation to exist. Food banks are on the increase, as are the numbers of people who desperately need access to them. Where people are already in debt, living hand to mouth, one wage packet to the next, the loss of work can plunge a household into total crisis at no notice. This is happening. Where benefits are cut, support with housing harder to come by, budgets that would not make ends meet now cannot be stretched. What do you give up? The mobile phone that enables you to be contacted if a job comes in? Heating? The cost of fuel has been on the rise for some time. Maybe you give up the car that you depended on for shopping and that actually made you more employable. We have a structure that pretty much demands you have certain things, and increasing numbers of people who cannot afford them.

And yet in some households, perfectly good food is thrown away all the time.

I stood in a queue today and listened to an obscenely spoilt brat howling with dismay that he was being made to stand up, and was not allowed to sit in the car. From the fuss he was making, you’d think someone had told him he wasn’t going to have anything to eat that week.

It’s the perspectives that really gets me, the comfortably off who denigrate the poor and assume that poverty is proof of not working hard enough, for one. The line between viable, and unviable is thin, and seldom visible. There but for the grace of the gods, goes any of us. One big car bill you can’t pay that leads to debt, and never being able to quite get ahead again. Or that classic of a sudden health disaster that takes job, income, dignity and hope in one fell swoop.

Any one of us could wake up tomorrow and find that some personal disaster, beyond our control, has thrown us into a state of destitution. And it happens every day, to a frighteningly large number of people.

We’re so quick to blame those less fortunate than ourselves, and so quick to assume that some inherent quality in us is keeping us in better fortune. Not luck. Not pure, blind, irrational chance. I think luck has everything to do with it. I’m lucky. I can afford to feed my child. Another woman in Gloucester, could not. If only we had a culture in which failure to look after the weakest was a source of shame, not pride. If only we could collectively stop looking for reasons to blame, and put that bit of effort into finding ways to help. If only we cared enough to notice.

I’m in a fairly affluent area, there are no hungry children on my doorstep, as far as I know. I like to think I’d have a clue if there were, and I know that if I knew, I could not stand by and do nothing.