The Paradox of Blame
“To err is human, to blame the next guy even more so.”
Making mistakes is inevitable—it’s part of life. Can we say the same thing about blame? Is blame part of human nature?
Who hasn’t blamed someone or something for whatever happened or didn’t happen? As long as we deal with others and experience setbacks, we will have strong reasons for blame.
We blame parents, teachers, siblings, friends, or politicians. It doesn’t stop there, when we don’t have a person to blame, we blame god, the universe, luck, the weather, the economy or circumstances.
Blame spreads like wildfire. Before you know it, your entire life has nothing to do with you and everything to do with what’s outside of you. Blame is very powerful and can significantly distort your view of the world.
So what happens when you blame?
You give up control over how you think and feel, and subsequently how you react or act. Let’s look at this simple example.
If your partner doesn’t listen to what you say, you’ll feel disrespected and not worthy of their attention. How you feel and how you think is completely dependent on the way your partner treats you. In effect, you have no control over how you feel; your partner determines how you feel by his or her words or actions.
Take the above example and add to it countless other encounters and difficulties in your daily life and you turn into a victim—the whole world becomes a hostile environment that makes you feel bad. You sink into a cycle of outside influences and reaction.
However, blame has another much darker side—one that we hardly ever stop to think about.
The paradox: the darker side of blame
Blame doesn’t stop with you feeling miserable and not being able to handle the challenges in your own life. It extends to how you view others.
When you view yourself as a victim, you project this notion onto others. If they have control over you, then you must have control over them.
If you change the behavior in others that upsets you, you’ll feel better. In other words, you start wanting to change others—the way they think, speak and act.
You have no control over your life but have control over others. That’s the paradox of blame, the absurd dance of victimhood and control.
And what happens when you control others?
If you ever tried to control anything outside of yourself, you’d know that it’s an exercise in futility. Nothing positive can come out of controlling others. Think of the following traps.
You start having expectations and labeling the desired outcome as good or bad. In the situation above, my spouse needs to listen to me. Because if he doesn’t, I’ll remain miserable.
So you go into arguments with your spouse about the importance of listening and paying attention. If both parties don’t stop and meet in middle, the finger pointing game continues and no one wins.
Waiting vs. living
You put your life on hold. Because everything is dependent on others and circumstances, you hide behind if only. You’re just waiting for things to improve and for people to change.
Anxiety and stress
Both blame and the desire (or need) to control others add to your anxiety and stress. When people don’t do what you expect, you feel disappointed, frustrated, angry and a myriad of other negative emotions—perpetuating a cycle of negativity that never stops.
How to get out of the blame zone
As we talked about above, blame can be very powerful in the way we perceive and experience life. In order to step out of the blame trap you need to start with where you’re at.
Become aware of the areas of blame.
What are the things in your life that you feel are not working well because of outside influences? Is it your job, the place you live, your colleagues, friends, family members, etc.?
At this point, you only need to pinpoint the areas of discomfort.
For every aspect you determine above, how can you turn the situation around and see how you can accept your part in it?
In the example about the spouse not listening, consider the following.
- What are you trying to tell your partner?
- Think of the time you talk to him, the language you use, your tone, your posture.
- What would happen if your spouse didn’t listen?
- Can you talk to someone else about it?
- Do you need to talk about it?
- Step outside of the situation and think of all the other ways in which your partner loves you and respects you.
- Another interesting thing here. Usually what we crave from others, we lack within ourselves. So are you listening to yourself? Are you listening to your partner?
Surrender the need to control and meet others with understanding.
Once you realize where you’re at and your part in it, take a step forward and meet the other with understanding.
In the case of the spouse above, can you calmly talk to her asking why she appears to not want to listen? You will be amazed by how simple questions and a genuine desire to understand the other person can turn the whole thing around.
You can’t control the outcome and you can’t control people. Control has failed repeatedly—from manipulation, persuasion, guilt tripping, expectations, to the use of force. When you meet life with understanding and take responsibility for your part, you will affect change in so many ways.
How to control your own feelings and thoughts is not easy, but it gets easier with practice. Start today with one simple shift. Imagine a life where you don’t blame or control anything outside of you—a life free of stress and disappointment. Who wouldn’t want that?
I leave you with the words of Thích Nhat Hanh that sum it all.
“When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look into the reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce.
Yet if we have problems with our friends or our family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like lettuce.
Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and arguments. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change.”