woman looking at sunset

I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about blame. What blame really means, and if blame even has a purpose in the world. To my mind, I prefer to avoid blame altogether. Is that a healthy posture to take? Probably not. That said, this posture did signal to me the need for deeper exploration into what blame actually is, how I see it, and what alternatives are available.

To blame, as I see it, is to assign ownership for an outcome to someone or something. This is usually done when the outcome is something we don’t like. In many cases we also blame ourselves, which can lead to a variety of other unresolved feelings towards ourselves, and a poor self image.

Rather than blame, I prefer to take ownership for the outcomes I can control, and to acknowledge the facts where the outcome is out of my control. To look for someone or something to blame, to me, is a clear signal of not wanting to see things as they are, and not wanting to take ownership over one’s own life. Regardless of who or what we feel is to “blame” for something, it is our choice whether or not we wish to let that take hold of us and consume our emotions.

Blame is so cruel. Cruel to others, and cruel also to ourselves. Without imbuing emotion onto blame, blame is also a catalyst. A reminder to us to take ownership of our own life and our own choices. To choose blame is to ignore what is, and to choose rather to have someone else be deemed responsible for correcting the outcome. What if we instead owned our own experience of the outcome? What if we instead ask better questions? How might I correct the outcome I’m seeing? How might I learn from this experience?

These questions put us on a forward-moving course which blame can never match.

2 responses to “Blame”

  1. Adrian Labos Avatar
    Adrian Labos

    For me, blaming means being stuck in the past. You can only blame something/someone when things have already happened, so blaming is as ridiculous as any other situation when you’re trying to change the past, hoping for a better present. It doesn’t work. Blaming is the opposite of solving the problem or moving forward in any way.

    > … if blame even has a purpose in the world.

    It has, but only in the criminal justice system. If someone is murdered, we want to know who’s to blame. Outside that, it’s a weapon being used as a tool. Blamestorming leads to scapegoating, creating a culture of identifying problems, liken an end-goal, rather than solving them.

    Taking ownership of the outcome when things go south is hard because it means putting yourself in a vulnerable position (which I’d love to hear your thoughts on, maybe in another post).

    In my experience, creating a culture where you “don’t take anything personally” helps avoid blaming, being blamed, or having folks being put in a vulnerable position.

    If you don’t feel vulnerable, you’re more likely to:
    – contribute constructive feedback;
    – get more involved and take ownership of your actions;
    – casually turn an emotional response into a rational conversation.

  2. Beautiful observations Matty. I think we can have accountability without blame, and where people fail to take ownership, we can have conversations about ownership and commitment rather than blame.

    I really like this piece on Blame vs. Accountability:

    There’s a table in there that separates out a culture of blame from a culture of accountability and I find it really useful, it’s very congruent with your message and might be a nice addition 🙂

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