Updated: Jun 1, 2020
Whenever there is a problem, the temptation is to blame someone else or blame ourselves. Over time we get used to assigning blame, and it becomes our mindset. We get used to blaming the same people for the same problems, and blame becomes resentment.
Society uses blame to enforce codes of behaviour, and also to allocate risks. Our legal system has rules and processes which allow blame to be allocated in a systematic and nuanced way. When something upsetting happens, the legal system usually provides a route to blame someone, either through a criminal investigation and trial, or through a civil lawsuit.
This system of publicly allocated blame usually fits with our society’s understanding of fairness, although no system is perfect. It serves a valuable purpose, because without a justice system people take the law into their own hands, leading to violence, revenge and vendettas.
The trouble with blame
When we apply blame to ourselves and our relationships it usually does more harm than good. Blaming others initially makes us feel better, because we can make others responsible for our problems. In some way blaming people makes us feel less like victims, and more in control of our lives. Blaming ourselves creates a downward spiral of negative thoughts.
Blame keeps our mind in the past, it stops us focusing on the present. It distracts us from seeing the facts of the matter and moving forward.
Blaming other people is self-justification. Blaming ourselves is self-criticism. Either way it is all about our egos. By needlessly focusing on the self we cloud our minds to the true picture.
When blame becomes resentment we lose the ability to relate to the person we are blaming. When blame and resentment take root at work, a lot of time and effort is wasted and misdirected towards self-justification and posturing.
We all know how unpleasant it is to be blamed by someone else, or to experience their resentment. It undermines our relationship with the other person, and makes interacting with them unpleasant and stressful. When resentment takes root in family life, it can make us deeply unhappy.
Moving beyond blame
Christians are taught to “turn the other cheek” and forgive those who have sinned against them. This is very difficult to do in practice. As soon as someone hurts us with a harsh word or selfish action, we take refuge in blame and resentment. Blame allows us to feel justified and soothe our indignation, and resentment keeps these feelings alive for years, sometimes decades.
Edith Cavell was a British nurse in German-occupied Belgium during the First World War. She nursed wounded German and Allied soldiers without discrimination. After helping Allied soldiers escape, she was sentenced to death by the Germans for treason. Shortly before being executed by a firing squad, she said:
“Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone”
These words are carved into the base of the Edith Cavell statue in Trafalgar Square, and over the years I have thought about what they mean. I am moved by Cavell’s deep humanity, and lack of resentment and anger towards her executioners.