Who’s to Blame?

June 11, 2013

“Me or you?” “Him or her?” “Us or them?”

Who’s to blame?

It’s a question that has plagued the human race since the beginning of time.

I had started this post several months ago and never finished it. But I was reminded of it again this last weekend: for the last 8 years, early June has marked the ending of Little League baseball for the Munson family. My oldest son Caleb is 12 now, but has been playing ball along with his 9 year old brother, Orin. (Today is Orin’s birthday, by the way, Happy Birthday buddy). Anyway, both boys were fortunate to make it to the championship games Sunday, so we spent the day at the ball field.

There is perhaps no clearer life example than the game of baseball to study the use of blame casting. Why did we lose? The error so-and-so made in the 2nd inning, the strikeout by so-and-so with the bases loaded and 2 outs, or the umpire’s bad call at home plate. Yesterday’s game was filled with these types of scenarios, and I wasn’t blameless regarding blame-shifting. Orin’s team won their game and Caleb lost but was not void of controversy.

In situations like this, blame was flying all over the place, and yes, the parents are always worse than the kids.

Two people to blame

At the end of the day, there are really only two people who can be blamed for any situation: yourself or someone else. Navigating this question is critical. Each of us leans one way or the other in answering it. 

Some of us lean externally, blaming somebody else for everything that goes wrong. This breeds things like bitterness, anger, pride, frustration, and a victim mentality. On the baseball field, it tends to be the umpires fault, or at least he’s an easy target.

But others of us lean internally, pointing inwardly to our own failures and flaws for the culprit. This leads to depression, lack of confidence, doubt, self-hatred, and a beat-yourself-up mentality. You never get over the mistake you made, and take more responsibility than is right.

Is it always this simple though? The equation between a failure and who’s to blame is not always as simple as Failure X = Person Y’s Fault.

Take a different approach

Life is not always black and white, it’s more often complex, in layers of grey. Rather than jumping down the throat of someone else, or beating yourself into depression, I recommend you asking yourself these four questions as you assess the failure:

  1. What personal responsibility do I hold for this failure? Honestly assess the situation and think about what you could have done differently. Don’t deny the truth or try and make yourself look superhuman and faultless. We’re blind to our own blindspots, so this may be a place where a good friend needs to give you honest feedback. Those who lean towards blaming people externally need to be sure to ask themselves honestly where they contributed to the failure.
  2. Do I need to hold someone else accountable for their failure? People that don’t like conflict may err on the side of blaming themselves because it’s easier to beat themselves up than confront someone else. However, you may be neglecting the opportunity to speak truth into someones life in a way that will help them grow.
  3. How can I be a teacher in the midst of giving criticism? It’s easy to point out the flaws in someone else, but a lot harder to lovingly coach them in the midst of your criticism. You can point out failure to the point of embarrassment, or you can work with them to empower them to see what they can do differently next time.
  4. What can I learn from the failure? Regardless of who’s to blame, there is much everyone involved can learn. If it’s your mistake, how can you prevent it in the future? Asking this in humility allows you to be honest AND change. If it’s the mistake of someone else, how can you help them prevent it in the future? Asking this in humility allows you to hold other people accountable with their best interest in mind.

Life is full of failure – that’s no secret. But school is always in session and we can take the failures and apply the learning to future experiences.

These failures may just become our best opportunities for growth, if we work through them with humility.