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Living Without Blame


Explanations > Behaviors > Blame > Living Without Blame

Understand harm | Understand complexity | Assume good | Failure unintended | Don't join in | Forgive | Learn | See also


Blame is a natural human approach that leads to people being conditioned into following social rules. Yet it can also be very damaging and society can be sustained with far kinder methods.

Understand the harm of blame

Blame can harm in all kinds of ways when we blame others and also when we blame ourselves. Even for people standing on the sidelines, blame can be corrosive as they take sides or fear that they may be next.

It is often not the act of blame or the immediate effects that is as damaging as the the longer-term effect of creating a fear-based society where power is used to blame and dominate rather than support and develop others.

While blame can help establish social rules and working relationships, there are better ways. In particular, if you can understand the underlying beliefs of blame, then you can see what is happening and ways to change beliefs and so how we behave.

Understand failure as complex and systemic

When things go wrong, though we often blame people it is seldom that simple.

Failures have many causes, and those causes have may causes, and so on. Causality can also be circular and include significant delay. Hence a decision now to fix a current problem can later cause problems elsewhere that eventually make the original problem worse.

In business (and outside, for that matter), people have to work within the system, obeying rules that are sometimes inappropriate, using inadequate resources. They often end up trying to do too much with too little in impossibly short timescales. No wonder mistakes are made and inevitable failures occur.

Before blaming, think about the complexity that led up to the failure. Consider all the other pressures on the person and what they might reasonably have done, not what they should have done.

Assume people are basically good

An assumption of blame is that people are bad, and that they fail through carelessness or other intent. Yet this is seldom true.

Most people do their best and, although this is not always good enough to prevent failure, this does not mean the person is bad.

When you assume others are good, well-intentioned and reliable, you will treat them that way and they will consequently act more that way. You can hence create a virtuous circle of reducing failure. You will also avoid the vicious spiral of negative emotions and declining performance.

See personal failure as unintended

We seldom set out to fail and the vast majority of people want to do a good job and be well thought-of by others. Yet things still go wrong, despite our best intent.

Our memory does not work like a computer and recalling things can be annoyingly difficult. We also have bounded mental processes, which limit our ability to understand and decide. These very human limits mean we will make mistakes ('to err is human', as they say).

Our failures are hence more do with these limitations rather than being bad or deliberately negligent.

Often also we are victims of circumstance where we are unable to predict events and have no control over what happens. In such situations we cannot be blamed for events and cannot be considered to have failed.

Don't join in blame

When everyone else is blaming of some hapless target person, there can be significant social pressure to join in and blame the target person too, even if you do not really know what they have done wrong.

At the very least you can pause and think rather than following the lead of others. Ask questions rather than jumping to conclusions. Look for environmental factors, psychological pressures and deep causes.

You can also decide to stand up for the person blamed, at least asking others not to blame so easily and maybe taking the part of the person, especially if they are less able to speak for themselves.

Forgive rather than blame

When the person has done something wrong, even if they have wronged you, seek ways to forgive them.

If you try to understand them rather going straight into attack, then you give them the opportunity to apologize and to make things right. And if they do this, then you (and others) may well find it easier to forgive.

If you understand how the person was not careless or deliberate in their mistake, or if you can see how there are other factors that contributed towards the situation, then again it is easier to forgive.

And if your understanding lets you see that the person is not to blame then forgiving is not needed.

Help learning and improvement

When things go wrong, the best outcome is that everyone affected learns from the event rather than attacking, defending or submitting.

The first step when something unhelpful has happened is to find ways to put it right in the short-term. This may be a quick fix, but at least there is some correction.

The next step is to look for ways to prevent the problem ever happening again, or at least making it less likely or the impact less severe.

To do this, seek to engage everyone in constructive analysis and understanding that leads to positive ideas for improvement. Then do careful trials to prove what work. Then institutionalize it. 

See also

Why We Blame Others, Ways to Happiness


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