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Who’s to Blame?

Bill Abbate

Who hasn’t played the “blame game”?While blaming is a part of human nature, it often works against us.

Let’s look at blame differently and how it can work for us as well as against us.

Blaming

Life is full of blamers, and there is plenty of blame to go around! Have you ever blamed the weather, your job, spouse, kids, parents, government, God, or anything or anyone else? Who hasn’t? It’s easy to do. Too easy. Does this make it right? It depends.

What exactly is blame? According to the Oxford Languages dictionary, its simple definition is to “assign responsibility for a fault or wrong.”

Finding a good use of blame is rare. Yet, there are two situations in which it can be okay when done correctly, as follows:

  • Accepting blame
  • Blaming yourself

We are often told, “Whenever you point a finger at someone, three are pointing back at you.”There’s a lot of truth in that old saying. However, when you accept blame or blame yourself, it is a different story.

Blaming yourself in the wrong way can be harmful. How? It can shut down your ability to learn. Should you have a good reason to blame yourself, be willing to take responsibility for it and correct it going forward. Thankfully, this kind of blame is usually short-lived and is only focused inward.

An example of blaming myself and learning to accept it during my career was when I blew my top at a colleague because he failed to do something. I unloaded both barrels at him, blaming him horribly. We had lost a valuable customer because of the mistake, and I was out for blood.

When I finally cooled off later that day, I regained my senses, and a terrible feeling settled in. I knew I had made a mistake, and the regret weighed on me heavily.

Before the day ended, I apologized to the colleague for my behavior. I had no one to blame for the outburst but myself, and I accepted full responsibility for my actions.I learned a tremendous lesson from that unnecessary eruption. It was the last time I behaved in such an extreme way.

To this day, I feel bad about what I did. Fortunately, he and I developed a friendship after the incident. I imagine he has long forgotten about it. Still, the valuable lesson I learned that day is always with me as a reminder to never repeat it.

Blaming can be dehumanizing

Whenever you cast blame on someone out of anger, as I did, you stop seeing them as a person who has value. Instead, you infantilize or objectify them. This means, at best, you treat them as a child, and at worst, you dehumanize them, neither of which is a proper or mature way to act.

As an intelligent, thinking person, you can find a better way to deal with another adult instead of treating them like a child or seeing them as an object or obstacle to getting what you want.

Instead of casting blame, act like a mature adult, and you will save yourself a great deal of regret. It only requires self-control and careful thought to find a better way to deal with the mistakes of others.

Blaming can be immature

Have you heard the saying, “The more mature you are, the more responsible you will be.”? It is true —maturity is responsibility.

Accepting blame when you are at fault can help you mature by allowing you to learn, take responsibility, change, and grow. Just make sure you are actually at fault. Too many others will blame us during our lives, and we shouldn’t be one of them other than for owning our mistakes.

“The best years of your life are the ones in which youdecide your problems are your own.You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize thatyou control your own destiny.” Albert Ellis (1913–2007)

Blame not only shuts down learning but can also produce other harmful effects. Can you think of a single instance where blaming someone for something did much good?

If you intend to blame something or someone else, it is essential to look inward before verbalizing or putting it into writing. The likely effect on the other person will be negative, harmful, or hurtful and may cost them their job or a relationship. At times, it can even be downright cruel to blame someone! Such blame is abusive, which is not something a mature person does.

Another kind of blame is the blame we cast on others while doing the same thing ourselves. As an article in Psychology Today points out:

“And there’s always the fundamental attribution error: People excuse themselves for the same negative behavior that they blame others for doing.”Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D. (1948-present)

How to deal with blaming

The blame game is an all-around bad game to play. No one benefits from it, so why play it at all?

If you believe you must blame someone else, consider asking yourself the following questions before doing so:

  • Am I using blame to attack?
  • Am I using blame as a defense mechanism?
  • Am I acting immaturely by shirking my responsibility?
  • Am I taking someone else’s word without knowing all of the facts?
  • Would I excuse myself for the same behavior?
  • Is there a misunderstanding?
  • What good will blaming them create?
  • What negative consequences could come from blaming them?
  • Will it really matter in the end?
  • How have I contributed to the issue?
  • What does blaming them say about me?

There are extremely few winners in the blame game on either side. Surely, we possess enough intelligence to avoid blaming altogether.

“A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.”John Burroughs (1837–1921)

Using blame to your advantage

As mentioned above, blaming yourself can allow you to learn, take responsibility, change, and grow when used correctly. Why not use blame to learn more about yourself? The metaphor contained in the following quote puts it perfectly.

“When the archer misses the mark, he turns and looks for the faultwithin himself. Failure to hit the bull’s eye isnever the fault of the target. To improve your aim, improve yourself.”Gilbert Arland (1921–1987)

See yourself as the archer who, when blaming, misses the target of improving yourself.

Before casting blame on someone, ask, “What does it say about me when I blame them?”Follow this up with“What do I need to work on?”

Anytime blaming someone or something comes to mind, find a way to turn it into a positive learning experience. Ask yourself. “What can I learn about myself in this, and how can I help the other person instead of blaming them?”

Turning blame into an opportunity to learn or do good is the mark of a good leader. You are the leader of yourself, so why not become that good leader in your life?

Final Thoughts

Avoid playing the blame game in any way that produces negative results. Use your intelligence to find a better way for the other person and yourself. Change the game from finger-pointing to that of learning, taking responsibility, changing, and growing.

The only good that comes from blaming is finding ways to avoid it and creating something new, good, and positive.

I leave you with the ultimate reference to blame found in the scriptures. It is a stern warning and one that every person today should heed:

“Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”Matthew 7:5 (NLT)



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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA
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