How to Stop Playing The Blame Game (and Win)
No one wins, so why play?
A fisherman is heading home at dusk. The river is narrow. Suddenly another boat is headed straight for him, coming faster and faster. He gets upset and starts to yell: “Watch out! Turn!.”
But the other boat crashes into him anyway. The fisherman is furious and starts yelling louder and louder. Until he realizes no one is piloting the other vessel. He was bumped by an empty boat. He now feels even more upset: he has nobody to blame.
Your life is full of boats adrift. And most of them are empty. But your mind clouds your perception. It urges you to find the pilot. When things don’t go well, you want to find who’s guilty.
When unfortunate events happen to you, how do you react? Do you find someone to blame? Or do you take responsibility for what is under your control?
Stop reacting and urging others to pay for what they (allegedly) did to you. That’s what blame is all about. Taming your mind will free you from pointing fingers.
‘Emptying’ the boats in your life will stop you from blaming others.
No One Wins the Blame Game
“You do not blame your shadow for the shape of your body: Just the same: Do not blame others for the shape of your experience.” — Gillian Duce
If something goes wrong, then someone other than myself must be blamed for causing the situation. That’s the rule of the blame game.
We have a hard time accepting what we cannot command. Many events are beyond our control. Accidents are incidents that happen unexpectedly and unintentionally. However, when we are bumped by an empty boat, our immediate reaction is to find who caused the crash.
Someone else must always be to blame.
The blame game is irrational; it stigmatizes the other person. That’s why people overreact when things go wrong. It’s better to be a blamer, than to be blamed. Whoever gets the blame is less than he/ she was before the fault. Speed is crucial to winning this game.
Blame is one-sided. It’s not about understanding what happened, but about making the other part responsible. Take the origin of the World War I, for example. Scholars and historians still disagree over which country to blame for the conflict. From conspiracies between the governments of Germany and Austria-Hungary to Serbian nationalism, every expert has his personal interpretation.
In the end, no one wins the blame game.
Blame creates biases. We accuse others to defend our position. Biases get in your way affecting your perception of what really occurred. Taking sides blind you.
Blaming is avoidance. It’s easier to think that the other part is wrong or bad, that to look inside ourselves. Rather than sharing responsibility, you blame one person. And avoid all accountability on your end. Accusing others blinds you.
By blaming others, you excuse yourself for that same negative behavior.
John Burroughs said: “You can get discouraged many times, but you are not a failure until you begin to blame somebody else and stop trying.”
The more you play the blame game, the more you lose.
The Scapegoat: A Bet against All Odds
“We need someone to thank and someone to blame; thus the concept of God and the Devil. We can’t accept that everything that happens to us, is our own doing.” ― Hafsa Shah
According to ancient tradition, two goats were sacrificed during the Jewish Day of Atonement. One was killed, while the other received all the sins of the people on its back and then set free. That second animal got a special name: “the scapegoat.”
When problems occur, people don’t like to blame themselves. Frustration, anger, envy, and guilt are unpleasant feelings. Scapegoating is a self-defense mechanism: you project onto others what you don’t want to see in yourself. Blaming others is easier.
Dwight D. Eisenhower said: “The search for a scapegoat is the easiest of all hunting expeditions.”
The infamous Great Chicago Fire was a conflagration that burned for three days, killing up to 300 people back in 1871. No sooner had the fire died out than the search for a scapegoat started. The Chicago Tribune reported that the fire began when a cow being milked by Catherine O’Leary kicked over a kerosene lamp. The reporter admitted years later that he made it up (Mrs. O’Leary was sleeping when the fire started).
Find someone to blame who cannot fight back. That’s the principle behind scapegoating. Powerless people or groups are easier to blame. That O’Leary was a woman and from a marginalized group, made her an easy target at that moment in time.
Why We Play the Blame Game
1. We project our emotions
“People that have trust issues only need to look in the mirror. There they will meet the one person that will betray them the most.” — Shannon L. Alder
Blaming is a distraction: we focus on others instead of doing soul searching. When we cannot handle a feeling, we want others to take it away. By projecting bad feelings at others, we set them up as bad so we can look good.
2. We expect life to be fair
“Stop blaming and start aiming.” — Rob Liano
Life is neither fair nor unfair; life just is, as I explained here. We have a broken idea of fairness. We cannot take that things go wrong. Rather than accepting that something bad happened to us, we opt to blame others. Instead of us being at fault, we make others take the blame.
3. We want to feel safe
“The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but the one who causes the darkness.” — Victor Hugo
We blame others because they are bad. That’s what we like to believe. Being bad is a label. It helps distance ourselves from those who are evil — we feel safe. That’s how other people behave too: they rather blame you than accepting that someone they love did something wrong. Placing the guilt on others protects from evil people and evil itself.
4. We default to rational explanations
“I never made a mistake in my life; at least, never one that I couldn’t explain away afterwards.” — Rudyard Kipling
When something goes wrong, we want to understand the reason why. Defaulting to a rational approach is how we avoid connecting to our emotions. The ‘blame culture’ is based on the assumption that there’s always someone at fault for every issue. People are quick to judge others and create a ‘rational’ explanation. Thus, avoiding responsibility or accepting that, some events, are out of their control.
5. We protect ourselves
“When a man points the finger at someone else, he should remember that three of his fingers are pointing at himself.” — Louis Nizer”
When we feel that we are under attack, blaming others is the perfect defense. If we are innocent, we blame to defend. If we are guilty, we blame to divert the attention. We protect ourselves by pointing the finger at someone else.
We Live In A Culture of Blame
“We live in a culture of complaint because everyone is always looking for things to complain about. It’s all tied in with the desire to blame others for misfortunes and to get some form of compensation into the bargain.” — Alexander McCall Smith
Blame is a form of punishment. “The Culture of Blame” is characteristic of toxic workplaces; it defaults people to conservative behaviors. People behave cautiously and filter they thoughts, the ones who expose the most are typically blamed when mistakes happen.
The fear of being blamed makes everyone play in defense mode. It creates an ‘everybody against everybody’ culture.
The culture of blame has taken over our society; toxicity has spread beyond the corporate world. We are continuously comparing to others. We want to be as good or better than them. When we don’t fare as expected, we default to envy.
According to René Girard, envy gradually builds up in society until it reaches a tipping point. Order and reason cede to mob rule and chaos. To quell the ‘madness of the crowds,’ a person or group is singled out as a sink for a mob’s bad feelings.
Our perfectionist mindset is causing more damage than not. We expect life to be as flawless as seen on social media. And believe that everything is possible and under our control. Whenever something goes wrong, someone else must be then held responsible.
The compensation culture is a byproduct of blame. We believe someone must pay for our suffering. The blame culture has created an exaggerated fear of litigation is making organizations risk-averse and over cautious. As Tracey Brown, risk management analyst said, “If parents sue the council every time a child falls off a swing, councils will eventually stop providing play equipment. People are not thinking about the broader picture of social responsibility.”
It’s easier to blame someone else than to accept responsibility. That’s why our society defaults to pointing fingers. We love the easy way out. It takes less energy to blame others than to improve our own behaviors.
Things won’t always go the way you want. That’s one of life’s most significant realizations. Embracing a ‘maybe’ mindset will make you smarter and stop blaming others.
Five Ways to Skip the Blame Game
“If you can keep your head when all about you, Are losing theirs and blaming it on you.”— Rudyard Kipling
1. Recognize when you are blaming
Awareness is always the first step. People who blame others either tend to use absolute statements (“you never help me,” “you are always attacking me.”) or focus on expectations (“you should have called me earlier”).
Your language defines your mindset.
Becoming more aware of how you talk to others will help you realize if you are blaming (or not). Some people blame others as a habit. Others do it occasionally. What about you?
2. Self-blaming is good
It’s better to take ownership than to blame others. I’m not talking about beating yourself, but about focus on improving your behaviors. Self-reflection is not easy. Ask yourself: “what’s the lesson here?” Embrace the uncomfortable experience of challenging yourself. See what you’ve learned. The pain will go on; the lessons will be with you forever.
Taking ownership drives action.
Researchers at Stanford and the University of Michigan, studying the annual reports of various public companies found that self-blame came with a bonus. The firms that attributed their problems to their actions instead to external factors performed much better.
3. Be empathetic, not judgmental
Focus on understanding the other person. Walk yourself in her/ his shoes. Get rid of the ‘right-wrong’ approach.
You are not perfect, don’t expect others to be perfect.
If someone causes you harm, was it on purpose or just an accident? Are you feeding other people to ‘attack’ you, even if you don’t notice? Self-pity is a character we play: we believe our suffering makes us special and deserving of more attention. Playing the victim role is easy: it makes you feel innocent; others are to blame for your pain. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Empathy starts at home. Be kind to yourself.
4. Own Your Part
You are responsible for everything that happens to you. Stick to the 50%-50% rule. When something goes wrong, own half of the responsibility. What can you do differently? What can you improve?
You create more suffering over your suffering.
Once you’ve realized that both the other person and you are equals, it’s easier to own your part. Understand your emotions. Why are you feeling bad about a specific event? What is that incident triggering? Remember the empty boat. It was out of control, how you react is on you.
5. Don’t let the problem blind you
Building on the above, the accidents are not the real issue. They are a trigger. When a boat bumps you, what’s the chain reaction?
When we react, we are letting our beliefs take over our emotions.
Most of the times, a small incident reminds you of deeper issues. Be careful. Your beliefs blind you; they filter how you see reality. Instead of helping you understand the problem, they drive confusion. ‘Confirmation Bias’ — embracing information that supports your beliefs and rejecting what contradicts them — is how your brain manipulates your perception.
The blame game can be addictive. Regardless of how well you play; you will never win. Stop playing it and regain control of your life.
Next time, before you react, pause. Think of incidents as an empty boat crashing against yours. Rather than finding whom to blame, realize that the vessel was adrift.
Is there something you could have done differently to avoid the crash?
Or just accept things as they are. Move on; keep rowing. And smile.
Less Blame, More Action:
Receive my weekly “Insights for Changemakers”: Sign Up Now
Download my free ebook: Stretch Your Mind (A compilation of exercises to help grow beyond your comfort zone).