The pointlessness of blame

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Your basic dignity doesn’t depend on blaming others. Photo by Sandrachile . on Unsplash

Blaming is when we attribute a failing to someone or something.  The most usual context is that something has gone wrong, and we experience an overwhelming need to point the finger at someone else for what has happened.

Psychologically, blame is often a question of projection.  We experience discomfort, and, like a dog under pressure barking, we respond with an outward display of self-defence.  In fact, we might as well just bark like a dog.  It’s just that our bark, when we’re human, involves words selected to project our displeasure outwards and impose on a third party.

IMPOSING MEANING AFTER THE EVENT

Once we have begun to make a noise, and projected our displeasure outwards, we have the beginnings of a rationalisation.  (A rationalisation is a piece of reasoning that didn’t arise from the desire for truth, but was brought into use to satisfy an emotional need.)  Our emotional need is to feel justified, because the negative event has temporarily made us feel put upon and victimised.  So we reach for something to say which gives us dignity in relation to others.

In this way, while the explicit meaning of blaming is to attribute a failing to someone else, the inner meaning of blaming is that we have experienced suffering, and have mistaken it for an assault on our pride.  Therefore we have reacted emotionally by trying to ‘put down’ someone else’s status, in order to try to even up a perceived uneven position between us and the outside world.

PROVING THAT BLAMING IS ABOUT US, NOT THEM

A way of proving to yourself that blaming is a rationalisation, is to remove the emotional cause.  You could do an experiment.  Imagine person A and person B experience suffering.  But at the same time as the suffering, let us give person A a boost in status.  My guess is that person A will be less inclined to indulge in blaming behaviour, because the cause (a perceived temporary fall in dignity) has been almost erased by the rise in dignity.  A practical example might be the way footballers’ reaction to being hurt changes according to context.  If you have scored a goal anyway, then any amount of perceived fouling by others immediately beforehand ceases to matter!

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR US

If you’re someone who likes to develop themselves, then this offers an opportunity.  If blaming is a rationalisation resulting from a mistake (the mistake being that suffering is an insult, and needs redress), then we have an opportunity to practice mindfulness.

I am not saying that people don’t do bad things, or that we should not hold people accountable.  But I am saying that we will see more clearly a path to action if we rid ourselves of that initial error, the spark of hurt pride that makes us rationalise.  By all means seek the truth, but don’t make it up depending on what has happened to you alone.

AN EXERCISE

Most people are aware instinctively that their pride should not depend on what happens to them.  That they have a basic dignity, irrespective of external circumstance.  Choose an object to keep in your pocket.  It may be a coin, or a stone, or a small ornament… anything which can remind you of a thought.  Then, just for one day, every time you experience suffering, reach for the object, which for this exercise represents your basic dignity.  Remind yourself that, despite what has just happened, you are still the same person.  If you are lucky, this will counteract your urge to rationalise and blame, and mean that you remain much calmer, and more reasonable.

If it works well for you, maybe keep the object in your pocket as a contant reminder, until one day you are so good at the response that you don’t need the object any more.

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SUMMARY

A person blaming another is like a dog barking, but with words.  Blaming is a rationalisation, a noisy invention created by you to reach for dignity you already have!  You think it is about the situation, but it is about you.  Your pride has been hurt, and you are reaching for a weapon.

As an exercise, try keeping in your pocket an object which, for you, represents your own basic dignity, which never changes.  When ‘bad’ things happen, reach into your pocket and remember this.  If lucky, you may find that you are much more even tempered and fair minded.

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