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The Beliefs of Blame

 

Explanations > Behaviors > Blame > The Beliefs of Blame

Responsibility | I am | Blame | Bad | Punishment | See also

 

Our beliefs are at the heart of blaming and the

When things go wrong somebody is responsible

Belief

There is somebody who is responsible for everything.

Things do not fail or go wrong by themselves. All problems and issues can be prevented by human diligence.

When things go wrong 'by themselves' then someone should have taken preventive measures to stop the thing going wrong or preventing the problems that result from the failure.

Reality

To accept that nobody is particularly responsible for something can be rather scary as it means we have limited ability to control our environment. Making somebody responsible avoids this troublesome thought.

Allocating responsibility is often assumptive and done after the fact, with statements such as 'You should have...'. When nobody is particularly responsible, we make them responsible.

We cannot control everything so we cannot be responsible for everything. Responsibility is seldom a black and white affair. We are more responsible for some things than others. Importantly, we have more control over some things. We cannot be held responsible for things over which we have little or no control.

We do have formal responsibilities, especially in the workplace, but some are more important than others. People do not go to work thinking 'I must fail'.

Often people are assumed to have responsibilities when they do not. In relationships, for example, a person may be reasonably be expected to be considerate, but they are not wholly responsible for the happiness of the other.

I am (not) responsible

Belief

Either: I am never responsible for any failure or problem (and hence do not deserve to be blamed or punished). Even if I am technically responsible, it is really somebody else's fault. Other people are responsible for my happiness and hence for ensuring that I am not responsible for anything.

Or: I am always responsible in some way for things that go wrong (because I am bad and hence deserve blame and punishment). I am responsible for the happiness of others, so anything that is their responsibility is really my responsibility.

Reality

When we make decisions and act in certain ways, we do so with limited knowledge, ability and motivation. We are not robots and our basic cognitive processes and emotional inner selves are complex.

Sometimes we are responsible. A key question is the extent of intent or negligence in causing the problem.

In business, managers often assume those who work for them are responsible for actions, while those below them assume the manager is responsible for decisions that lead to actions.

People who have been blamed and punished when they are young may either learn they can avoid punishment by denying responsibility or else they accept the implication of blame, that they are irredeemably bad and so are always responsible and deserve to be punished.

People responsible for failure must be blamed

Belief

Responsible people must be called out and named. If people are not blamed then things will only get worse. Nobody can be excused.

It is the responsibility of other people to assign blame and to agree on this. People who challenge the blaming are themselves to blame for avoiding this responsibility.

Reality

Blame solves very little. Sometimes it does result in people taking greater care, but in practice the downside of blame-avoidance often leads to avoidance of responsibility and failure happening more often, not less.

In some contexts, those who point the finger away from themselves and those who accept all blame seem to balance out, resulting in apparent harmony. This is typical in families. Yet this is dysfunctional and can lead to deep unhappiness.

In business, managers have formal authority to blame those beneath them. and some always do. People lower down feel powerless and blame those above for wrong decisions or not allocating sufficient resource.

Even when people have formal responsibilities, they have a limited amount of time in which to do planned work and try to limit risks. A key question is whether the person might reasonably have prevented the problem, given all the other work. This is often a question of priorities.

Blamed people are bad

Belief

Responsible people do things wrong either deliberately or through incompetence. Deliberately doing things wrong is clearly bad. Being incompetent is not bad in itself, but accepting responsibility is a deliberate act, so incompetence still makes the person bad.

As intent is the core factors, it is the person that is bad, not the act. If the issue is harmful to others, the person may even be considered to be evil.

Reality

If we can label other people as bad, then we, in contrast, must be good and superior.

Being bad assumes a trait, an unchangeable state. A person with a label of 'bad' can be blamed for many things. This makes judging and blaming very easy into the future, with a convenient person to blame for anything that goes wrong.

Bad people must be punished

Belief

Bad people deserve to suffer. They have broken the rules of society and caused distress to others, so they must suffer in return.

Punishment will cure badness. The punished person will feel regret and resolve never to err again.

Reality

We punish people not just in hope that they will learn their lesson, but for other personal reasons. Punishment is often an act of power, where the punisher seeks status.

Even we are at fault, blame and punishment is unlikely to help prevent recurrence. The prison system is full of repeat offenders and it is well known that even incarceration will not stop a person re-offending (it may even make things worse).

Punishment is easily disproportionate, with the punishment far exceeding the 'crime' (and very often the intent). This can lead to the punished person feeling that it is not fair and so developing a grudge and seeking revenge.

See also

Why We Blame Others

 

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