Lately the topic of blame has been coming up often in my reading. Jeff Haden lists it as the number one thing to stop doing in his article Be Happier in Business and Life: 10 Things To Stop Doing Right Now. Haden says, “Taking responsibility when things go wrong instead of blaming others isn’t masochistic, it’s empowering–because then you focus on doing things better or smarter next time.”
However, one thing that came up for me as I read Haden’s article was what if the problem really was someone else’s fault and there was nothing you could have done “better or smarter” to have changed the situation.
When something happens that really is entirely someone else’s fault and it causes you a problem, your immediate reaction is to get angry at them and/or the situation they have caused, and as Haden says, “blame them for your problems.” That, in fact, is the dictionary definition of blame – “find fault with” (The Concise Oxford Dictionary).
Okay, so now we have a problem and we are angry and blaming someone else, “If only they hadn’t done that, this never would have happened.” We are now a victim – we have been harmed by someone else’s actions. And if we stay being a victim, we will not be able to move forward. As Phil Stutz and Barry Michels say in their book The Tools: Transform Your Problems into Courage, Confidence, and Creativity, if you get stuck in a “This shouldn’t be happening to me” mode, you are refusing to accept an event that has already happened and are wasting your time wallowing in pain.
The solution, move forward. Accept that this thing happened through no fault of your own – but it happened. Accept that this is the situation you now find yourself in and move forward. Don’t waste time blaming the person who caused the situation or wishing it hadn’t happened. It did. What can you do about it and how can you move forward?
Case in point, recently someone forgot to pick my daughter up at a previously agreed upon time and place. Of course, it was on the worst possible day. Our schedule was tight, moving from one appointment to another and she had lots of homework to complete for the next day. She did eventually get picked up but it took about 45 minutes longer than expected. Her first reaction was anger – it’s their fault they forgot, how stupid of them, now I’m late, I have tons of homework – which almost led to hysteria and tears. Luckily after letting her vent for a while and not trying to tell her that her emotions were misplaced and that everyone makes mistakes, she calmed down enough to move forward. She started her homework while waiting for her next appointment and managed to get it all done without wasting too much time on blaming and thinking about why this shouldn’t have happened in the first place.
Brené Brown in her TED Talk The power of vulnerability, describes blame as “A way to discharge pain and discomfort.” So rather than spend our time trying to discharge our pain and discomfort onto someone else, we may be better served by accepting what is and finding a way to deal with it and move forward with our lives.