The Blame Game

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Quayside Ladder

What does being an adult, reaching maturity really mean?  I think that one of the most important definitions, if you will, or maybe criteria, is being able to take responsibility for yourself.  We are born helpless and within not so many years we are weaned, potty trained and have learnt to walk.  These are huge milestones in development, obvious markers of when we become responsible for ourselves.  For other things though, taking responsibility is much more subtle, less obvious so perhaps we don’t appreciate the process or find it impossibly hard to pinpoint that exact moment when we become fully responsible for ourselves.

Being responsible for ourselves means accepting consequences, or in the place, just acknowledging that there will be consequences.  For some reason, we find this hard.  Often that difficulty stems from childhood, a profound sense of embarrassment or even fear can hold a child back from admitting that he has made a mistake.

How do we see mistakes?  We often say that we have done something ‘wrong’.  Wrong (yes, I’m back to nuances again) carries very negative implications, it can even imply that something was deliberate, a choice perhaps.  Making mistakes, having accidents are a normal part of life.  But when we describe it as something ‘wrong’ we inherently imply that there was a fault, someone is to blame.

 A child with unbalanced psychology, or surrounded by people with unbalanced psychology, will quickly catch onto this connotation, especially when the consequences are appropriate to wrong-doing and not to a mistake or an accident.  The child will quickly learn that they are at fault, being held accountable and will look to shift the blame elsewhere.

If we as adults are supposed to accept the consequences as part of taking responsibility for ourselves and our actions, what example are we setting to the children around us?  Are we too embarrassed to admit that we’ve made a mistake?  Do we try to blame someone else, anything else?  Or do we accept responsibility?

This becomes an even more important issue in our modern culture.  We live in a society where tacky daytime TV advertising, no win no fee solicitors tell us that we must blame someone else.  This is fast becoming the norm.  We have an accident and someone is at fault, to blame.  And it’s never going to be us.  (I appreciate that in countries where healthcare must be paid for that compensation is often quite necessary to cover a person’s medical expenses, a person who is a genuine victim of someone else’s wrongdoing).

That’s not what an accident is.  An accident just happens.  And perhaps that’s something we are deeply uncomfortable with, we are often desperate to control our lives, the world as we see it and live it.  But unfortunately we can’t.  Accidents happen.  We’re not quite as in control as we’d like to think we are.

How do you respond when you see or hear of a car accident on the motorway or some major road?  Do you assume, presume even, that this is the result of someone’s wrongdoing, someone who’s been speeding or driving recklessly?  Someone must be to blame; it must be someone’s fault.  To accept that a car accident can just be exactly what it says it is, an accident, forces us to admit subconsciously that it could also happen to us.

If we take responsibility for ourselves and our actions as mature adults, we cannot keep trying to blame others or anything else, animate or inanimate.  We have to accept that sometimes we can mistakes and we also have to accept the deeply uncomfortable truth that sometimes accidents happen.  If we can’t then unfortunately I don’t think we can really claim to be so grown up after all.

I had an accident.  First of all, I railed against the ladder.  Admittedly, the ladder does have form.  But when I look at the incident rationally then I have to conclude that it was possibly actually a good thing that the pathetic ladder collapsed and fell in the opposite direction to me.  If not, I might have got painfully tangled in it and ended up in a far worse state than I did.  I have to accept that this was just an accident; there was no blame or no fault.  My ever reliable grip failed in this instance.  I was more tired than I cared to suspect.  A truth that I’m not entirely happy to admit.  But it was still just an accident, one of those things that just happened as accidents are wont to do.

Accidents are deeply unsettling because they do just happen.  It’s a shocking and often painful reminder that we’re not in control of ourselves and our lives quite as much as we’d like to be.  And yes, accidents are more likely when we are over tired, stressed out, overwhelmed.  It still doesn’t make them our fault, we are not to blame.  Hindsight might indicate how we could have prevented it happening, just as if that car driver had chosen to stay at home that morning after all.

There are other positives that I’ve discovered since that wee accident.  I did not break anything on my way down, which considering our loft hatch is in a hallway three-foot square is seriously impressive.  I landed next to a thirty year old Moroccan tagine.  I would have been very distraught if I had damaged that.  But being me, I would have been less distraught if I had broken myself.  Another highly surprising thing was that there was no Voice, it remained silent throughout the entire incident.  That was very strange.  But I really don’t mind that.  I also got to treat myself to some ‘get well’ yarn, yarn is always a good thing.  It always make me feel good too.  And really importantly, husband has decided that whenever I want something from the loft or to go into the loft, he will do it when I ask.  (I’m not going to hold my breath but at least have leverage).

Accidents happen.  Make of that what you will.  But you might be surprised to learn that they can give us wise lessons and even positives can come out of them.  However, you might still have a very sore tail a fortnight later.

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12 thoughts on “The Blame Game

  1. Anonymous

    It can be very easy to see when other people go wrong, or where they went wrong. However it can be an awful lot harder to see where we ourselves are going wrong or even went wrong. It’s easy to blame others, those around us or even vague entities such as the System, the Man for our mistakes, problems and issues. We live in a blame culture. But sometimes we have to man up and face the fact that we screwed up, that we have at least some responsibility in the mistakes, errors and mess ups of our lives. Sometimes even when it seems like the problem or responsibility may lie with someone else, we have to make amends and bridge the gap, righting the wrong. As my Dad always said, it takes two to tango. Work with the people, especially the family, in your lives. Be grown up enough to make things right yourself. Be prepared to see where you yourself have gone wrong.

  2. Have you ever noticed that when something good happens, for example a promotion at work, it is because of our own talent, skill, hard work, smarts….? But when something bad happens, say we don’t get a raise or promotion, it is because the boss hates us or is an idiot, or the fault of office politics, or that good-looking co-worker who sucked up to the boss?

    We all hate to admit to our own part in negative outcomes, although for unimportant things, we can sometimes laugh at our own stupidity.

    I had a teacher who asked 2 questions about conflicts between students, complaints about bad grades, and a zillion other situations: “How much responsibility do you have for what happened?” and “What can you do differently the next time so this doesn’t happen again?” I’m sure we heard these questions a million times and would roll our eyes, but they are great questions.

    The teacher would remind us that we cannot control other people and many things around us (like the weather) but we can control our reactions to them.

    I can’t remember the specifics of any subject matter in that class, but I remember those wise things she asked and said. They have helped me more than conjugating a verb or diagramming a sentence.

    My response to the Weekend Linkup at Write on Edge can be found here:
    http://proartz.blogspot.com/2009/02/wrong-side-of-tracks.html
    Please stop by.

    • Wise words indeed, we don’t always have the power to control situations as you say but it’s very true that we do normally have the power to control or choose our reactions. Thanks for sharing. :)

  3. Hmm, this really made me think. You’re right about wanting to assign blame, because if someone has done something to cause the disaster, then as long as you don’t do the “something,” you’ll be OK. It’s a lot scarier to think bad things just happen sometimes. Interesting post.

  4. Last year I got tangled in the legs of my pjs, getting out of bed in a rush. 4 of the toes on my left foot went in one direction- the big toe went in the other. A goofy getting out of bed accident that had me with strapped toes for about 6 weeks, and the toe took months to be bendable again.
    An accident.
    Nobody to blame.
    But I’ve never rushed out of bed again ;)

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