Blaming seems a knee jerk reaction when anything goes wrong. Sometimes it seems as if we spend more time blaming than on looking forward together to remediate or resolve the problem we are trying to blame on someone. By blaming we can relieve our frustration. We can avoid the complex realities of life and get back to the illusion of certainty and simplicity.
What is blame? What is its purpose? Is it the same as accountability? How does it relate to learning from past mistakes?
What is blaming?
To blame is to censure, hold responsible or make claims that individual, group or supra human (e.g., the weather) actions are irresponsible or the cause of some negative event or condition.
Blame is the opposite of praise. Blaming often arises from a need to create a simplistic understanding of the cause of situation. Once we blame someone, we can then punish them and feel that justice has been served. We don't have to deal with the messiness of multiple causes and conditions.
Blame carries a negative connotation. It is linked to anger and retribution.
Blaming occurs on a personal level, as in "What you did was the reason for me to scream at you." It occurs at a macro level with Israelis blaming Arabs and Arabs blaming Israelis. Buddhist monks in Myanmar blame Muslims for instigating riots in which hundreds of Muslims are killed by Buddhist mobs.
Governments and organized religions have used blaming as a propaganda technique for shifting attention from the real causes and conditions for errors, poor economic conditions and more by demonizing one group or another. The Jews, Muslims, Americans, Hindus, etc. are blamed by their enemies, creating a sense of guilt on the part of those who are blamed and a sense of righteous indignation or hatred on the part of others.
Blaming in Organizations and Relationships
Blaming is an indicator of health in organizations. When accountability flows upward in a hierarchy it shows that superiors take responsibility for their directives and their ability to provide the resources required getting work done to meet expectations. Though, when accountability turns to blame it can undermine trust in the leadership.
When blame flows downward or across organizations, between professionals or departments, it is likely that people will spend more time avoiding blame than trying to perform optimally. There will be buck passing instead of collaborative efforts to uncover causes and institute solutions.
An organizational culture in which blame is a predominant trait is likely to suffer from low effectiveness. It has even been found that transparency in such organizations, instead of promoting optimal performance, has led to defensive behavior out of the fear of being blamed.
Similarly, a personal relationship in which blaming is a knee jerk reaction is bound to suffer. Guilt, anger, fear, withdrawal, and an inability to get to the underlying causes to resolve issues are the results.
Victims blame themselves undeservedly for abuse, often because their culture has created an environment for shifting blame from one group to another. For example, victims may blame themselves for being raped or physically abused in a culture that does not hold rapists and abusers to account for controlling their urges and anger.
Some people feel that there is something inherently wrong with them and that therefore they are responsible for the bad things that happen to them.
Where blame has a negative connotation, accountability can be seen as a positive alternative. It is through accountability that it becomes possible to learn from experience to make things right by remediating the damage done and making sure that going forward we will improve and eliminate the causes of future errors.
Accountability is the obligation to say what has happened. If a person is accountable for his or her actions, there is a sense of owning up to the results of those actions and taking responsibility for them. This works on a personal level as well as an organizational level.
Where relationships are dysfunctional, accountability is lost to blaming or hiding the truth to avoid it.
Complex Causes - Holding the System Accountable
Many situations are quite complex and do not lend themselves to simple individual accountability or blame. Systemic causes, like poor or nonexistent regulation, the quest for power, corporate greed, the desire for economic advancement and jobs, and global warming are all part of the cause for the sinking of parts of Louisiana referred to in the Times Magazine article.
On a personal level, while it is easier to pin causes to individual choices, there are often systemic causes at work that have led to the poor choice, as in the case of a cheating partner.
When we "blame" the system we are likely to find less satisfaction than blaming an individual or corporation. It doesn't feel as good as pointing the finger at someone or some group.
Fixing the system is far more difficult than divorcing, firing, fining, imprisoning or killing the perpetrator. However, it is more likely to lead to solutions that are meaningful and long lasting. Looking to the system as a primary cause enables the analysis and ultimate action that can remove the causes of future problems and eliminate the blaming that is likely to make things worse.
At the same time if personal or corporate greed or personal negligence is a root cause of a problem, that should be recognized and handled with clarity and compassion.
When faced with a pressing problem or disturbing event, watch the tendency to blame. If it arises, take it as a signal to step back and assess the situation. Bring a sense of loving kindness, compassion, forgiveness and clarity to mind and work from that rather than from a sense of righteous indignation, anger and the need for revenge.
As you assess, engage in a dialogue to uncover the causes and conditions that have led to the situation at hand. From there, move to finding a solution that is likely to remediate the problem, satisfy the needs of the parties involved and minimize or eliminate recurrence of the situation.