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Recognizing the Distinction Between Blame and Responsibility

Recognizing the Distinction Between Blame and Responsibility

Do you believe that in a perfect world everything would go right every time? At the beginning that sounds pretty nice, especially if it is a radical change from your present circumstances. In our fantasies, things work out, we get the “yes”, and events go exactly as we planned. The problem is that certainty can get boring, so we tinker, we try new things, and we experiment. That’s when it happens:

Sometimes things go wrong.

What you do next is the thing that makes all the difference. Is it your common response to cast about for who messed up? That might seem practical: after all, until you know who made the mistake, you can’t fix it. Do you look for what went wrong? Not just people are involved; there are things and there are processes. Perhaps one of them is faulty. Who was in charge anyway? Maybe it was a failure of leadership or instruction or training—after all, the buck has to stop somewhere.

Before we head down these roads, we need to check one thing: What is our intent in this inquiry? Are we looking for someone to pin it on? Are we looking for something to “fix”? Are we looking for a leader to denounce?

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These are the common motivators. In politics, business, and the social scene, a favorite pastime is finding fault. News television is full of talking heads who are assigning blame everywhere and rallying to replace those at fault. Unfortunately, their replacements become the next targets and the cycle continues.

Only a few are strong enough to accept blame and take responsibility when something goes south. Only a subset of those strong individuals manages to hang on to face their next scrutiny. but there are such persons and we can model ourselves after them. What do they do differently than those who run from the blame?

Before we go further, we need to get some definitions straight. What is blame, what is fault, and what is responsibility?

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  • To be responsible is to be answerable or accountable. It means that we will be measured.
  • To be at fault is to be responsible for a failure or worse, a wrongful act.
  • Finally, to blame is not just to hold responsible but to find fault with.

How to Approach Responsibility

There are ways to approach responsibility that work and ways that don’t. Let’s start with the latter. When our focus is on blame, it is all about finding someone to get. It turns focus away from what went wrong and how to keep it from going wrong again. It is judgmental and vindictive.

Blame is often used to divert attention away from ourselves. After all, we don’t want the blame—who ever wants to be “at fault”? But the blame game shows a lack of understanding of what responsibility fundamentally is. Responsibility cannot be assigned after the fact even though many attempt to do so. Responsibility was always present, even if it was not acknowledged. When you start to realize this, you stop blaming others. You begin focusing on your own role, whether in action or in abdication.

This is a moment of clarity but some folks lose it immediately by making one critical error: they replace blaming others with blaming themselves. This turns into self-recrimination, self-judgment and self-hatred. Blaming yourself is not the same thing as taking responsibility: In fact, it is a way to avoid taking responsibility.

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How so?

The focus of blame is to find fault. Its objective is judgmental to its core. Finding yourself guilty is not going to change anything, fix anything or improve anything. Taking responsibility, on the other hand, has a superior objective—it is all about accountability. It is an assignment, not a verdict. When something is assigned to us, we take care to manage it, protect it, and make it successful, so in circumstances where many go from blame to self-blame, can you see the superior path of focusing on assignment? Whatever happened is now a provider of new and useful information, rather than a distraction from your objectives like blame can be.

There is one other turn of a phrase we must be wary of. That phrase is “to hold responsible”. Yes, it has “responsible” in it, but don’t be fooled: the active word is “hold”. It’s just a stand-in for finding fault. Remember, responsibility just is, and it was, but it cannot be assigned after the fact. A better phrase to embrace is “to accept responsibility”. It is best if you do it in advance. It is painful if you have to do it after the fact but keep in mind that your acceptance didn’t bring your responsibility into existence, it was already present.

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If responsibility is sounding like a serious matter, it is, but it isn’t a circus like blame and faultfinding. Take responsibility mindfully and stay away from blame. If you do, you will find that things calm down and get clearer. It feels better to be responsible than to merely endure the blame.

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Last Updated on December 3, 2019

10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

There are so many lessons I wish I had learned while I was young enough to appreciate and apply them. The thing with wisdom, and often with life lessons in general, is that they’re learned in retrospect, long after we needed them. The good news is that other people can benefit from our experiences and the lessons we’ve learned.

Here’re 10 important life lessons you should learn early on:

1. Money Will Never Solve Your Real Problems

Money is a tool; a commodity that buys you necessities and some nice “wants,” but it is not the panacea to your problems.

There are a great many people who are living on very little, yet have wonderfully full and happy lives… and there are sadly a great many people are living on quite a lot, yet have terribly miserable lives.

Money can buy a nice home, a great car, fabulous shoes, even a bit of security and some creature comforts, but it cannot fix a broken relationship, or cure loneliness, and the “happiness” it brings is only fleeting and not the kind that really and truly matters. Happiness is not for sale. If you’re expecting the “stuff” you can buy to “make it better,” you will never be happy.

2. Pace Yourself

Often when we’re young, just beginning our adult journey we feel as though we have to do everything at once. We need to decide everything, plan out our lives, experience everything, get to the top, find true love, figure out our life’s purpose, and do it all at the same time.

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Slow down—don’t rush into things. Let your life unfold. Wait a bit to see where it takes you, and take time to weigh your options. Enjoy every bite of food, take time to look around you, let the other person finish their side of the conversation. Allow yourself time to think, to mull a bit.

Taking action is critical. Working towards your goals and making plans for the future is commendable and often very useful, but rushing full-speed ahead towards anything is a one-way ticket to burnout and a good way to miss your life as it passes you by.

3. You Can’t Please Everyone

“I don’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everyone” – Bill Cosby.

You don’t need everyone to agree with you or even like you. It’s human nature to want to belong, to be liked, respected and valued, but not at the expense of your integrity and happiness. Other people cannot give you the validation you seek. That has to come from inside.

Speak up, stick to your guns, assert yourself when you need to, demand respect, stay true to your values.

4. Your Health Is Your Most Valuable Asset

Health is an invaluable treasure—always appreciate, nurture, and protect it. Good health is often wasted on the young before they have a chance to appreciate it for what it’s worth.

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We tend to take our good health for granted, because it’s just there. We don’t have to worry about it, so we don’t really pay attention to it… until we have to.

Heart disease, bone density, stroke, many cancers—the list of many largely preventable diseases is long, so take care of your health now, or you’ll regret it later on.

5. You Don’t Always Get What You Want

“Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

No matter how carefully you plan and how hard you work, sometimes things just don’t work out the way you want them to… and that’s okay.

We have all of these expectations; predetermined visions of what our “ideal” life will look like, but all too often, that’s not the reality of the life we end up with. Sometimes our dreams fail and sometimes we just change our minds mid-course. Sometimes we have to flop to find the right course and sometimes we just have to try a few things before we find the right direction.

6. It’s Not All About You

You are not the epicenter of the universe. It’s very difficult to view the world from a perspective outside of your own, since we are always so focused on what’s happening in our own lives. What do I have to do today? What will this mean for me, for my career, for my life? What do I want?

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It’s normal to be intensely aware of everything that’s going on in your own life, but you need to pay as much attention to what’s happening around you, and how things affect other people in the world as you do to your own life. It helps to keep things in perspective.

7. There’s No Shame in Not Knowing

No one has it all figured out. Nobody has all the answers. There’s no shame in saying “I don’t know.” Pretending to be perfect doesn’t make you perfect. It just makes you neurotic to keep up the pretense of manufactured perfection.

We have this idea that there is some kind of stigma or shame in admitting our limitations or uncertainly, but we can’t possibly know everything. We all make mistakes and mess up occasionally. We learn as we go, that’s life.

Besides—nobody likes a know-it-all. A little vulnerability makes you human and oh so much more relatable.

8. Love Is More Than a Feeling; It’s a Choice

That burst of initial exhilaration, pulse quickening love and passion does not last long. But that doesn’t mean long-lasting love is not possible.

Love is not just a feeling; it’s a choice that you make every day. We have to choose to let annoyances pass, to forgive, to be kind, to respect, to support, to be faithful.

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Relationships take work. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s incredibly hard. It is up to us to choose how we want to act, think and speak in a relationship.

9. Perspective Is a Beautiful Thing

Typically, when we’re worried or upset, it’s because we’ve lost perspective. Everything that is happening in our lives seems so big, so important, so do or die, but in the grand picture, this single hiccup often means next to nothing.

The fight we’re having, the job we didn’t get, the real or imagined slight, the unexpected need to shift course, the thing we wanted, but didn’t get. Most of it won’t matter 20, 30, 40 years from now. It’s hard to see long term when all you know is short term, but unless it’s life-threatening, let it go, and move on.

10. Don’t Take Anything for Granted

We often don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone: that includes your health, your family and friends, your job, the money you have or think you will have tomorrow.

When you’re young, it seems that your parents will always be there, but they won’t. You think you have plenty of time to get back in touch with your old friends or spend time with new ones, but you don’t. You have the money to spend, or you think you’ll have it next month, but you might not.

Nothing in your life is not guaranteed to be there tomorrow, including those you love.

This is a hard life lesson to learn, but it may be the most important of all: Life can change in an instant. Make sure you appreciate what you have, while you still have it.

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Featured photo credit: Ben Eaton via unsplash.com

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