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The Blame Game. Everyone Loses

Blaming is neither true or not true. It doesn't take me even one tiny step closer to my or anyone else's happiness or freedom.

. Rachel Neumann Shambahala Sun March 2014

I'm in the Phoenix airport waiting for a delayed flight. It is the perfect place in time and space for observing how blame wrecks havoc on and eats up time and energy in our lives.

I observe people around me taking on both victim and victor roles as they seek to place blame. I overhear conversations on cell phones and between travel companions as everyone speculates about who is to blame. Some people demand answers from the harried gate attendants who clearly have no more answers than anyone else. I decide to simply become the observer.

We have been taught to lay blame as quickly as possible in any situation that causes us to feel discomfort. My mother used to call it "Finding fault". The U S Justice system was established specifically to aide us in determining who is at fault. Who is to blame. And in Civil Court as well as criminal court we spend billions annually trying to determine who is at fault for things that hurt or upset us. We expend time, money, relationships and physical and emotional energy all in pursuit of assigning blame. But does the "verdict" end discomfort?

Recently while I was coaching a work group seeking to bring empowerment, efficiency and positive communication to their office culture, I marveled at how much effort the time strapped group spent trying to determine who was to blame for mistakes. When they realized their time was better used reflecting on mistakes as opportunities for growth and improvement instead of establishing blame, efficiency skyrocketed. As emotional safety increased, staff were more willing to say, "I think the snag happened on my watch and this is what I'd do differently next time. What do you think?"

As individuals we are riveted by stories of how someone beat the IRS or got out of a speeding ticket. We listen to them as if they are heroes and we hope to learn a new trick for ourselves. And if someone tells us,"Yes. I was speeding. I accepted my responsibility, paid my fine gratefully and reflected on some ways to remind myself to stay under the speed limit", we think they are suckers.

The difference between assigning blame and taking responsibility is that responsibility creates space and opportunity for change. It ultimately empowers. Blame negates responsibility and closes off possibility for learning. If we blame the officer who pulls us over versus taking responsibility for our action, we are being dishonest with the most important person in our lives...ourself. When we, like the team I worked with, seek satisfaction by pointing fingers, we are missing out on the opportunity for improvement through collaboration. A friend once told me that his son, an account manager at a big firm, made a $1,000,000 mistake on a client's account. As the young executive stood waiting to be fired, he was shocked when his boss said, "Yes. This is horrible. It puts us at great risk. You will be under increased supervision. But you will not be fired because you have learned an extremely valuable lesson and it is highly unlikely you will ever make a mistake of this magnitude again. Your value just increased".

When we let go of blame, disengage from the act of "finding fault", we enter into accountability, responsibility and self leadership. If you find yourself asking the question, "Who is to blame?" Answer with gratitude, "I am". I am responsible for creating an environment where learning through mistakes is ok. I am responsible for my own reflection and learning. I am responsible for gratitude in the process.

So how do I apply this as my flight is delayed? Ummm. Practical application is always more challenging than theory! I strive to avoid using blame to mask or suppress my disappointment. I choose not to lash out at others. Instead I feel those emotions. I decide to use the unexpected time to write and catch up with a friend by phone. And feel gratitude that air travel is available and I have opportunity to partake!

How might you choose to practice letting go of blame?