The Blame Game – Pt 2

Oct 18, 2011   //   by Steve Wooding   //   A Slice of Lemon, Articles  //  No Comments

IN SHORT: Let others play the blame game and wallow in the mess while we move forward.

“A man can get discouraged many times but he is not a failure until he begins to blame somebody else and stops trying.”
[John Burroughs, 19/20th-century US essayist & conservationist]

 “Better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness.”
[Chinese proverb] 

(~923 words, approx 5-8 mins to read)

Last time we talked about how we play ‘the blame game’ as a way pushing responsibility or the need for action away from us and onto others when there are problems. We concluded that if everyone plays the blame game, nothing changes – the problems we’re seeking to blame others for don’t get sorted out, the mess those problems caused never gets cleaned up, and the things that got broken stay broken.

However, we did take a look at those who take a different approach – the ‘cleaners’. These are the people who leave blame and accountability to one side to begin with, and start out by taking some responsibility to sort, clean and mend, just like the street clean-up collectives did in the days following the riots back in August. What this also does is give time for the anger, frustration and bitterness that often surfaces at times like this to subside, and let a little rationality back in.

And I promised that we’d take a pragmatic and practical look at how we might be able to apply the ‘cleaner’ mindset to our own lives.

To illustrate how the ‘cleaning’ process works, I’ll share the basic gist of things a few past clients have said:

  • “It’s my school teacher’s fault I’ve got no confidence – they were always putting me down when I made mistakes or didn’t know the answer.”
  • “My parents raised me to never cause offence, so I never really stand up for myself.”
  • “My grandma always gave me biscuits and sweets if I was feeling low, so it’s got to be her fault I binge when I’m down, hasn’t it?”

Think about where that would leave you if  one of those was true for you, i.e. that’s how you thought and felt.

If you play the blame game with each of those examples, then you’d leave the responsibility for fixing the problem squarely with the person you’re blaming. And even if you make an attempt to understand the ‘why’ behind what happened, you’re still left stuck in the past –  it’d be like saying that once we understand who started the riots and why, the streets will somehow clean themselves up. That understanding may help us take action to prevent something like that happening again but it’s no use to us right now.

Think about the ‘teacher’ example – is that teacher ever going to want to, or be able to, fix that problem for you? They may even have the misguided belief that their actions were right at the time.

Are those parents going to be able to erase their actions from your past? Even if they did, would it change your present significantly?

Is the kindly grandma going to see her biscuits or sweets as anything other than her well-intentioned attempt to help you feel better?

No, none of them are.

Instead we need the approach of the ‘cleaners’, who first and foremost look to what can be done right now to help sort the mess out.

Fortunately, the ‘cleaner’ approach can be simplified into just five easy steps:

  1. REMOVE ALL BLAME from your description of how things are, so you’re left with just the core issue or problem.
  2. REMOVE ALL ABSOLUTES from your description – i.e. get rid of all words like ‘never’, ‘always’, ‘none’, ‘every’, and instead, make it relative to where you’d like to be, with terms like ‘more’, ‘less’ etc.
  3. CREATE ROOM FOR CHANGE by rephrasing it so the issue is just ‘now’, and not fixed forever. You can do this by adding in words like ‘currently’, or ‘yet’.
  4. REFLECT by creating a question from what you’re left with, a question about what your next steps should be to move closer to where you’d like to be.

Let’s try this on the first example above:

  • Step 1, removing ALL the parts of the sentence that have anything to do with blame leaves us with “I have no confidence” – the core issue.
  • Step 2, removing the absolutes and making it relative, creates “I have less confidence than I’d like”
  • Step 3, adding in some time-related word(s), makes it “I currently have less confident than I’d like”, which subtly creates the possibility of movement instead of ‘stuck’.
  • Step 4, creating that question, makes it “I currently have less confidence than I’d like, so what steps will I take to increase my confidence?”

Before we go any further, let’s just compare what we started with to what we’ve now got. We started with a sentence full of blame and bitterness towards that critical teacher with our issue buried somewhere in the middle of it all, and no sign of a solution anywhere. But now we have a clear statement of the issue and the real possibility of a solution.

There’s always room for some help from others too on how you might proceed, whether that’s friends or family you trust to give you honest advice, or a coach or other professional who can guide you to discover the best path for you.*

You can try the same process with the other two problems for yourself.

Step 5, however, holds the key to the problem actually being solved. No matter how well-meaning those who wanted to clean up the post-riot streets were, unless they actually got out the door, brooms in hand, and started sweeping and cleaning, nothing would have been solved. They TOOK ACTION to finally solve the problem of the messed-up neighbourhood.

And we need to do the same. Let others play the blame game and wallow in the mess while we move forward.




*  A good coach will ask you some extra questions to get right down to specifics, such as “In what contexts do you feel you need more confidence?”, “What difference would having more confidence make to you?”, “Is there anything that having more confidence wouldn’t change?”, “How would you know you had the confidence you want?”, and even guide you in exploring whether a lack of confidence is the real issue and whether working on something a little deeper would be more effective in making the kinds of changes you want to your life.

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