My daily practice post of last week referenced this humorous video of Brené Brown's about blaming (from the Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts).
Her story will make you laugh, and perhaps wince in recognition, but watch to the end to learn about the research on the habit of blaming.
She says, "Blame is simply the discharging of anger and pain." Wow! That's definitely what comes across to me on Facebook these days -- lots of anger and pain being discharged, not much actual communication going on. That's an important benefit, though -- what will we do to manage the anger and pain we are feeling if we choose not to resort to immediate fault finding and attack?
She says blame has an inverse relationship with accountability. Why? Because accountability is a vulnerable process. It requires you to contact someone and say, "Hey my feelings were really hurt by this." The blaming process exhausts us -- after raging for 15 seconds and identifying whose fault something is, not only have we expended the energy we needed to actually talk to the person about it, how will we push through all that blame and anger we've generated to get back to an honest expression of being hurt and a request for accountability?
Brown says blaming is toxic to relationships because when we are making the connections as quickly as we can to figure out whose fault it is, we are not really listening. She points out that relationship requires slowing down, listening, and allowing empathy to arise. But I would go further -- even from a self-centered or goal-oriented standpoint, in Brown's story, her blaming cut off her husband's potential empathy for HER. We do this to ourselves all the time -- act in opposition to what we really want, which is to feel deeply heard and understood. People have a hard time doing that when they feel attacked. How do we tell people something hard in a way they can actually hear?
These questions I'm asking are hard ones, and this is why I often ask clients and students (and myself!), "What is your communicative goal?" If we are trying to change people's minds or hearts, or build a movement, we will not succeed by pointing out all the reasons those people are wrong or at fault (especially in shaming, snarky, or superior ways). That is not a moral statement; it is just a fact.
I could say so, so much about this (because one of my specialties is systems analysis and what actually does work to shift culture!), but maybe it's better to let it percolate through your soul awhile and see what bubbles up for you.
I will share one thing bubbling up for me today, which is my frustration that sometimes the effort not to be sucked into this toxic habit feels like it takes my voice from me.
Here is a very personal example. A mental health provider of mine for the past several years recently treated me in a way I found very hurtful. I managed to tell him so via email relatively calmly, owning that I felt hurt and why. He responded more thoughtfully and seemed to leave an opening where I could reflect some things back to him about his practice that do not align well with his client base. I know he is a good person, and I know these things are unconscious on his part, but every time I try to write to him, my language tips from trying to share my point of view in a way he might hear, understand, and care about, to berating him with a list of issues that, while true, even I recognize as a finger-pointing, fault-finding rant. I feel so frustrated that I KNOW the culture game, and I STILL can't escape it. I am struggling, but I am determined to end up on the side of genuine communication. I'm sure it won't be perfect! But it will reflect a hard-fought effort to get outside this water we swim in, at least.
So when you don't see me posting right away about a public issue or current event, it is not that I am unaware of it or indifferent to it. It is often that I am struggling to find a way to express myself that is not making me a tool of the culture. I really do believe that this mindful struggle we engage in (and I know I am not alone) does more to change the world than any logical argument.
What are your observations about the blame game -- how it works in our culture or your own struggles with it? Share in the comments.
I'm actually a bit on the fence about Mary Oliver. She is a wonderful crafter of words, and her poems about nature can provide a powerful entryway into a deeper level of relating to a very alive, active Universe. But if you stop with her poetry, you haven't quite gotten there yet, and I think too many people do just that -- read one of her pieces, sigh, and say, "Ah, that's so true!" without walking through the door she has opened to continue on a deeper journey that might actually change them.
However, I do like this poem, because it is SUCH an inviting doorway to the act of being present and the habit of joy. And in our culture, even noticing that door, let alone putting one's hand upon its lichen-encrusted knob, is a fairly revolutionary act. It's called "Mindful."
Counselor/Coach, Consultant, Folklorist, High Priestess of Where Things Meet and the Places Between