What do you gain when you blame someone for something? You get to feel superior. You get to direct the focus of attention away from yourself and your own failings. You get to feel some relationship to justice. Perhaps, if you point the finger, justice will be done. If justice is not done, you can assume the role of the unjustly aggrieved person. Certainly, blaming has a valid place in the legal system. When people break the law they should be identified. But, for some of us, blaming is an overused tool in our emotional repertoire.
Normally, we learn to blame early in life. As we develop our sense of right and wrong, we identify wrong doers around us. It becomes important to tell mom about the transgressions of brother or sister or friend. We hope mother will right the wrong. She has the power to restore the balance of power. She can return what is rightfully ours. She can soothe our affronted tiny ego.
As we grow up, we continue to use blame to clarify the good from the bad in our world. We may come to believe that when we blame people we are providing a service. We feel we are making the world safer by shining the light of justice on transgressors. At the same time, we may be meeting our own neurotic agenda of transferring awareness of the source of our bad feelings to an external cause. If I feel bad and I can blame you, I don't need to take responsibility for my bad feelings.
What's the problem with blaming?
What can you do instead?
- It causes an immediate rift between the blamer and the blamee.
- It raises the negative emotional heat between the accused and the accuser.
- It paints the transgressor as faulty, and stimulates in them a need to protect their self esteem. Power struggles ensue.
- It assumes we know something about the motivation of the guilty party, when we probably don't.
- It assumes we are guilt free in the situation, even if we have inadvertently caused the problem.
- Blaming creates attachment to negative emotional states.
Know yourself. Examine your own motivations. Be aware of your own faults and failings. We all have a shadow side that contains parts of our self image we can't bear to look at. Looking deeply into that shadow makes us less likely to blame others. Knowing our own weaknesses gives us more tolerance for the weaknesses of others.
Give up your attachment to self-righteousness. Reaction formation is a neurotic defense mechanism where we condemn in others the fault we fear in ourselves. It is a common trait. In most cases, the more blaming someone does, the more they are hiding from awareness of their own tendencies to do the thing they condemn. Humility and forgiveness dissolve blamefulness.
Forgive. Hanging from the cross, suffering the ultimate in injustice and indignity, Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Whatever else happened, this example was a true redemptive act of the crucifixion. This forgiving attitude is a key to salvation. Jesus would not blame the false accusers, the torturers and executioners. He called on God the Father to forgive them, knowing that ultimately, God is the source of forgiveness. He also acknowledged that the source of evil is ignorance: "For they know not what they do." People do not do evil when they are in touch with wisdom. Evil occurs when we are cut off from the knowledge of causes and effects. Given the level of ignorance in the world, we should not be surprised by the level of evil. When we forgive, or ask God's forgiveness, we invoke love. Forgiving is the antidote to blamefulness. Love is the antidote to hate. Wisdom is the antidote to evil. Forgiveness, love, and wisdom go together -- three attributes of higher being.
Live like an animal. Animals don't blame. It's one of the things we like about pets. Animals respond to pleasure and pain without projecting judgment on the source of the pleasure or pain. They give love freely. They don't have to be right. They express their true nature unselfconsciously. We could all be more like that.
© 2002 Tom Barrett