When we blame we tend to feel really good after we’ve gotten over our anger. Blame is a ‘got-cha’ moment when we are able to feel superior over another. Our politics are now filled with blame from all sides, and throwing around the blame card makes the angry electorate feel powerful. It’s only an illusion though.
Blame is also a strong emotion to which we can become addicted, because it floods us with adrenaline and self-righteousness. In the end it is a dead-end accusation that heightens shame and imparts a feeling of being defective. We end up victimizing the other and reducing our own status as an honorable human being.
Taking responsibility usually feels like a burden, a real pain. It doesn’t make us feel good and so we often avoid it. In fact, the lousy feeling we have when we take responsibility may very well be a great indicator that we are doing the right thing. So maybe we ought to reframe it and appreciate it. That’s because responsibility is not an emotion, like blame. It is a deliberate decision that emanates from our heart and our conscience. We name how we’ve fallen short, and dispassionately identify how we think the other has, also. We seek a mutual dialogue; we consult; we listen; we discuss, and we seek a solution both parties can agree on, given the circumstances. Blaming short-circuits this process and appeals solely to our pride. Responsibility neutralizes the possibility of blame and feelings of self-pity.
Why don’t we take responsibility over blame more often? The biblical creation story and Adam and Eve’s fall from grace in Genesis 1-3 gives us a clue. However useful to explain our human dilemma, most religions, and those touched by religion, have used this story to neutralize the appropriate degree of responsibility that each of us has for our lives. We end up blaming God, who then appears to be an ogre who can’t wait to punish us for our transgressions. This shift to blame includes our collective shame around sexuality, nakedness, intimacy, and having to work for financial security. Just as Adam and Eve proclaimed, “The Devil made me do it!” rather than take responsibility, so we continue to do the same, hoping to hide our responsibility ‘under the radar.’
A healthier perspective for the story from Genesis is that we humans almost always have the freedom of choice to do what we want, as long as we take personal responsibility for our decisions, words, and actions, without blaming others. We may not like the outcome, but at least we know we’ve taken action out of our core freedom and values. And we can learn from the outcome so that next time we make wiser choices. Taking responsibility is the best way of taking back our power and exercising it for the good.
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Text and artwork copyrighted by Michael Parise