I always know it’s time for some reflective writing when I find myself focusing on what I don’t want rather than on what I’m for. It’s typically a thin line between the two, but when I’m pulling at my hair and asking ‘why are people so (fill in the blank)?’ I know I need to take myself by the shoulders and point myself in a different, more positive direction.
So here I am, ready to reframe something that continues to present itself in my life: blame. Not blame directed specifically at me. I’m talking about blame that hurts others. People I admire or love or even perfect strangers, for that matter. Blame that’s a narcissistic excuse for doing whatever blamers want to do. Blame that’s an abuse of power and a smokescreen for right-fighters. Blame that serves to make one person okay at the price of someone else not being okay. That kind of blame. As my daughter used to say when asked to eat her broccoli, or brush her teeth ‘I don’t love it.’
Okay. While I am 100% certain I will never love blaming, I clearly need to find a way to better handle people who:
- point the finger without holding themselves accountable
- can’t genuinely apologize without attaching a ‘yeah, but’ on the end
- create a s&*t storm of blame-shame then stand back and let the painful chips fall where they may
I’ve been thinking about this for a while, which I know means it’s time to:
- Let it go.
- Look for the humanity in people who cast blame.
- Do nothing and see what happens.
Obviously, I’m not able to let it go. I don’t want to. Because I think I like blaming the blamers. Crap. As a self-described non-blamer, I’ve got to own that. So I guess it’s on to option 2.
Here’s the problem with option 2: I don’t really want to view blamers with compassion. Because I think they’re wrong to do what they do. Therefore I’ve been choosing option 3 – the path of least resistance. Which clearly hasn’t worked, bringing me back to options 1 or 2. Argh.
I think those first two options could actually work quite well together, but only if I start with looking for the humanity in people drawn to dwell in the blame frame. I’ve long believed that compassion is the flip side of judgment for me, so I know that my path to truly letting go lies in something more along the lines of Namaste than ‘You are a big old Blamey McBlamer!’
In a most fortunate and unconnected turn of events, a very dear friend of mine told me about a book called ‘Daring Greatly’ by Brene´ Brown. My friend didn’t know that I was struggling to understand how the blame theme was showing up in my life when she recommended it. But let me tell you, Dr. Brown – an American scholar who studies vulnerability, courage, authenticity and shame – beautifully articulates the compassionate reframe I’ve been looking for.
I do most of my reading in the bathtub in the early mornings. TMI, I’m sure. Sorry if that image doesn’t sit right with you, but there’s a point to the context. I was having my morning bath, trying to open a neural portal to help me better absorb Dr. Brown’s wisdom and along comes this pearl about blame. And shame:
‘If blame is driving, shame is riding shotgun’.
Wowzers. This struck a chord! She went on to say that, ‘In organizations, schools and families, blaming and finger pointing are often symptoms of shame.’ And that ‘shame-bound people’ are very systematic about how they dole out the blame. Because finding someone else accountable spares them from feeling shame about themselves. No matter that it rolls downhill, leaving others in a murky pool of hurt. Pointing the finger discharges their own pain and discomfort in moments when they themselves are most vulnerable (aka angry, hurt, disappointed, etc.).
Those words stirred something profoundly deep in me. I had to write them down. Or underline them. But I was in the bath, see? (context). There was nothing to be done except get out of the bath, search for a pen while dripping wet and make notes in the margins. I’d found my way to Namaste the blamers. Huzzah!
In another section of her book, she deepens my understanding by writing that when she looks at [blame] through the vulnerability lens, she sees:
“… the shame-based fear of being ordinary. … the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be loveable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose.”
Here’s the fragile and very real element of humanity I’ve been struggling to see in people who blame. But because of its raw vulnerability I can summon compassion around what’s driving the behaviour. And get myself disengaged from the blame-shame game and reframe it in a much healthier way. There’s a lot of relief in that changed perspective for me.
The question of why I take these kinds of things to heart is easy to answer if you know me even a little. I am ridiculously protective of people. I know it’s not my job. I know that people have their own journeys and that I am not equipped or necessary to help them learn their lessons. But for my whole life, when I’ve seen someone being treated badly, it has bothered me. I’ve hurt on their behalves, seethed quietly, stepped in occasionally and worked hard to let it ‘not be my problem’. But my pal Brene´ helped me see that maybe my protective nature isn’t such a bad thing. She says:
“If you want to make a difference, the next time you see someone being cruel to another human being, take it personally. Take it personally because it is personal!”
I do think blaming is cruel. But my new perspective – which I shall spend time on every day until it becomes a real part of my commitment to compassion – helps me understand that the greatest cruelty that blamers inflict is to themselves. So next time, rather than raging and judging, I will see their vulnerability. And I will send them love and hold them in my heart with compassion. At least I will try. It’s what I’m for.