Just the other night at dinner time, my daughter talked about an experience that she said just made her day! She said it was the best experience she has had on the road in a long time. She was listening to something I would probably find annoying like the High School Musical Soundtrack. She was dancing and completely getting into the music. Then, she stopped at a traffic light!
While still getting her groove on, she did something we all tend to do when we stop. She looked around. As she did, she froze as she saw the driver next to her staring right at her. Caught! What does she do now? Should she pretend she did not see him? But, they made eye contact so she knows he saw her and she saw him. Does she do that blank stare forward praying for the light to change quickly? Now what? This is so embarrassing!
Before she can come up with a response, the man took the lead. He paused for a moment, smiled at her, and then he began to rock out and dance in his car just like she just was! My daughter felt relief, continued dancing, and the moment passed with much laughter and this later wonderful dinner conversation!
Hearing this experience from my daughter reminded me of a time when she was younger and we were in the car. Only this time, the experience was different–we were the ones in the car watching someone else. We came upon someone and saw something! It was our moment to see another!
Well, like little kids do, this daughter pointed right at the other people and said something out loud. To be honest, I do not remember if the windows were open or what, but I was quickly overcome with horror at the fact that she was pointing. I was worried about what would happen if the other people saw her pointing. So, I said something that I have heard so many times:
Remember that when you are pointing at someone else all the rest of your fingers are pointing right back at you.
And she stopped pointing.
I wish I could remember what happened next! I want to tell you that we had some sort of profound conversation about not judging or blaming others. I want to believe I had some proud parenting moment where I taught her about taking responsibility for herself. You know, one of those conversations where her life is literally changed for the better because of this one conversation and she goes on to change the world and win the Nobel Peace Prize? Well, I’m sure that did not happen. So, here I go to try again.
I am so intrigued by this idea of pointing fingers at others. I have heard it said that in the Navajo courts of law, if you point the finger at another, they will reprimand you and remind you three of your fingers are pointing back at you. Interesting? It is! So, why do we still feel the need to point fingers and blame others.
I have had the sad experience recently of seeing close friends go through the break up of their marriages or long-term relationships. It has been a sad time to watch them in pain as they struggle through the pains of separation and divorce. I would not wish this on anyone.
Of note, it is nor uncommon to see an interesting response in these moments. I will comment primarily on social media posts of the two parties in the relationship. Typically, one member of the separated couple goes into almost radio silence. The posts decrease and there is little information coming from them. If there are posts, they are often just inspirational quotes, funny memes, or pictures of their children. They almost seem to have withdrawn.
Fascinatingly, the other one often is one who starts sharing all kinds of posts with a not subtle negative feel. These posts will say things like “How to survive separation from a narcissist!” and “What to do if your former spouse was emotionally abusive” and more. Even more, the posts add messages like “I am free now” or “I am so happy to have seen the light and gotten out.”
I finally had to stop following one of these friends because she posted multiple posts every day throughout the day. She was so negative in blaming all of her current problems on her former partner. She just kept going and going. At first, I felt bad for her. Then, it began to be so negative that I was getting frustrated with her.
What is it in us that causes us to want to blame others for our circumstances? It is a natural tendency and we are all prone to do it. What does it all mean? Is it a bad thing? Is it problematic to have someone engaged in these blaming activities (overt or covert)? Of course, the problem is not just on social media. It is also not just a problem among separating couples. Blame happens. And it is not good!
We are indebted to the work of Dr. Brene Brown in this area. Dr. Brown has studied shame and blame more than probably any other researcher. She has asked “Do you enjoy blame?” We are all prone to do it. She said “blame is the discharging of discomfort and pain” and her research has found that “blame is corrosive” to relationships and work places and the world. Just look around and you see it everywhere. Blame is corroding marriages, families, work places, politics, and more. Please watch for a helpful summary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZWf2_2L2v8
Why is blame such a big deal?
Blame is a huge deal because blame is inversely correlated with accountability. Blame keeps an individual from developing and growing and healing. Blame can also destroy others (we see this where kids are placed in the middle of divorcing parents’ and either one or both of the parents blames the other). Blame is toxic, deadly, and painful for all involved. It can even push away potential support persons.
Why is accountability so important? Accountability is associated with growth, progress, healing, closeness, connection, vitality, and happiness. Accountability allows one to be vulnerable and open. This allows examination of feelings and conversations of healing and empathy from others to occur. I cannot heal if I am so focused on others. There is no insight, no awareness, no growth. I need the accountability to see the answers and the way forward. Have you ever noticed that those who discharge blame never simultaneously take personal responsibility for themselves and their part in the problem? It is because they cannot.
Blame and personal accountability cannot exist in the same space.
Empathy is a crucial balm to have applied when we have been hurt and when we have gone through a rough break-up or divorce, a separation from a place of employment, or other painful event. However, you cannot obtain empathy and true support when blaming is occurring. The heated discharge of blame will always prevent the cooling balm of empathy. Those who are stuck in blaming will have a hard time healing from things big and small.
So, I would like to end my message with two challenges here to help us all stop pointing the finger at others:
First, if you have been hurt (and who among us has not been?), check and see if you are blaming someone else for that hurt. Examine your Facebook feed and see if you are pointing the finger at someone else in any way. Examine your conversations with others to see if you are engaged in the blame game.
If you are, please stop it. Then, seek out a professional, a church leader, or a good friend and ask for help and support.
Choose someone who will show empathy and help you face the pain. True healing comes when we are accountable for ourselves, our pain, and our experience. We cannot control what others did or may do, but we can be responsible for ourselves and how we handle it. Remember that without accountability for yourself, you will stay stuck and not heal.
Second, if you are following a friend on Facebook or listening to a friend who has the habit of blaming, please don’t join in the blame game. This just engages you in this same corrosive process and you are, in fact, adding to the problem. We often think we are helping when we join with the blamer and add our pointing fingers to the mix. We often feel duty bound to do this if it is a family member or close friend. However, I beg of you to resist this temptation. It will hurt you and it definitely hurts the person you are intending to support. You are keeping them stuck in their pain.
So, what can you do if your best friend or family member is engaging in blaming others for their circumstances? How can you respond to those social media posts filled with blaming the other person? Please resist with all of your energy the temptation to add to the blaming. It will only make things worse and it will never help your loved one. Never.
If you want to help those who are blaming others, try to extend empathy. Try to look past the words of blaming and anger and glance past the pointing, judging fingers and see the pain. You can comment on the pain by saying things like ‘This whole break up has been so hard on you” or “I am sorry for the pain and loss you are experiencing.”
Extend a warm and empathetic hand to help them take down the pointing finger of blame.
If you are the one who is trying to not blame another for your pain, keep up the good work! It can be very difficult to not retaliate or start pointing fingers yourself. However, know this: you will find healing by focusing on your own emotions, your own healing, and your own forward progress. Keep trying to be accountable.
That man who pulled up next to my daughter could have judged her, labeled her, and blamed her as a crazy teenager responsible for all of the problems on the road today. Instead, he saw her, saw what she was doing, and joined her in a positive and forward-moving way.
When we are tempted to blame others for our predicament or join others who are engaged in finger pointing and blaming others, let’s do like that man who paused and chose to respond in a better way. Let’s meet blame with empathy and accountability. Let’s heal and get on the road to better