How often do you point the finger of blame at something or someone else? Most of us have played the blame game at some point in our lives. Is it ever right to do so? Let's take a look at what blaming can add or detract from your life.
In years of studying human behavior, there appear to be virtually no good uses for blame. Yet, there is one situation in which it may be okay.
We are often told, "When you point a finger, there are three pointing back at you." There is a lot of truth in this old saying, and the only instance I have found when casting blame is appropriate is when you correctly blame yourself.
Blaming yourself in the wrong way can be harmful, as blame almost always shuts down the ability to learn. Should you blame yourself for something, only do so when you are willing to take responsibility for it and correct it going forward. This blame is very short-lived and focused inward, never toward anyone else.
An example of using this technique during my career was when I blew my top at a colleague because of something he failed to do. I unloaded both barrels on him, blaming him horribly. We had lost a valuable customer because of the mistake, and I was out for blood. After I came to my senses, I felt terrible. I knew I had made a mistake being so hard on him.
Within a few hours of the event, I went to the colleague and apologized for my behavior. I had no one to blame for this outburst but myself and accepted full responsibility for my wrong behavior. I learned a tremendous lesson from this eruption. It was the last time I behaved in such an extreme way.
To this day, I feel bad about what I did. Fortunately, we became good friends after the incident. I imagine Bruce has long forgotten about it, but the valuable lesson I learned that day will always remain with me as a reminder never to repeat it.
Other than using blame as an opportunity to learn, accept responsibility, and change, I can think of no other good that can come from blaming yourself for anything. Too many others will blame us during our lives, and we don't need to be one of them! Only blame yourself for something when it helps you improve yourself in a good way.
"The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny." Albert Ellis (1913-2007)
As mentioned, blame shuts down learning, but it also produces many other negative effects. Can you think of a single instance in which blaming someone for something did an iota of good? There may be some examples out there, but I have not found them.
If you intend to blame something or someone else, it is important to look inward before verbalizing or putting it into writing. The likely effect on the other person will be negative, harmful, or hurtful. You could even say it is almost always downright cruel to blame someone! Some blame can be abusive, and that is a place no mature person should ever go!
And what about the blame we try to cast on others, yet we do the same thing ourselves? As an article in Psychology Today points out:
"And there's always the fundamental attribution error: People excuse themselves for the same negative behavior that they blame others for doing." Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D.
The blame game is a bad game all around. No one benefits from it, so why even attempt to play it?
Consider asking yourself these questions before casting blame:
- Am I using blame to attack someone?
- Am I blaming to deflect something?
- Am I using blame as a defense mechanism?
- Am I shirking my responsibility?
- Am I taking someone else's word without knowing all of the facts?
- Would I excuse myself for the same behavior?
- Is there a misunderstanding?
- What good will blaming them create?
- What negative consequences could come from blaming them?
- Will it really matter in the end?
- How have I contributed to the issue?
- What does blaming them say about me?
No one wins the blame game, neither the one blaming nor the one blamed. Surely we possess enough intelligence to avoid blaming altogether.
"A man can fail many times, but he isn't a failure until he begins to blame somebody else." John Burroughs (1837-1921)
Using blame to your advantage
As already mentioned, blaming yourself when used to learn can be helpful in your life. Why not use blame to learn more about yourself? The metaphor contained in the following quote puts it perfectly.
"When the archer misses the mark, he turns and looks for the fault within himself. Failure to hit the bull's eye is never the fault of the target. To improve your aim, improve yourself." Gilbert Arland
See yourself as the archer who, through blame, will always miss the mark. You can blame everything and everyone, the weather, the wind, and whatever else you can think of. But in the end, that is a target at which you should not aim. Instead of shooting the arrow of blame at them, ask, "What does it say about me when I cast blame on them?" Follow this up with "What do I need to work on?"
Anytime blaming someone or something comes to mind, find a way to turn it into a positive learning experience. Ask yourself. "What can I learn about myself in this, and how can I help the other person instead of blaming them?"
Turning blame into an opportunity to learn or do good is the mark of a good leader. You are the leader of your life, so become that good leader in your life!
Avoid playing the blame game, and use your intelligence to find a better way. Change the game from one of finger-pointing to one in which people accept responsibility, learn, and grow as a result.
The only good that comes from blaming is finding ways to avoid it and creating something new, good, and positive.
I leave you with the ultimate reference to blame found in the scriptures. It is a stern warning and one that every person today should heed at all times:
"Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend's eye." Matthew 7:5 (NLT)