Friday, 9 December 2011

Playing the Blame Game

Do you ever fall victim to minor colloquial misfortunes that are so inconvenient that they must have been the manifestation of someone’s mastermind plan to ruin your day? Of course you do.

I blame Teerapun for this image!
When you stubbed your toe last week on the threshold of a door in your own home, your first thought was that your landlord, cleaning lady or handy roommate must have built up that threshold when you weren’t looking, for the sole purpose of having you trip over it, and break your neck. By the time you grabbed your throbbing big toe, yelling out obscenities in pain, it was all clear to you; your vengeful roommate had to have been the responsible party – it was probably in retribution for that day earlier in the week when you failed to re-fill the milk jug!

Yesterday morning, I journeyed, westbound, along the Trans Canada Highway. The previous night had brought about 30 cm. of wet, heavy snow. As unpleasant as it was, I made, what I considered to be, a reasonable effort to clear the snow off of my car in the morning, including that which sat on top of my roof, and coated my brake lights. As I drove along the highway, the wetness remaining on the pavement from the melted snow sprayed up onto my windshield from the rear wheels of the cars traveling in front of me. This sludge – some combination of melted snow, mud and road salt, I think – completely impeded my field of vision every thirty seconds or so. This meant that I had to constantly spray the windshield with my precious, and dwindling supply of windshield washer fluid, until the indicator light on my dashboard began to flash to tell me that it needed to be re-filled.

Like you and your toe, of course, I was not able to simply accept this spraying of sludge on my windshield as an inescapable fact of winter driving. No. It seemed to me, at the time, to be an incontrovertible fact that the other drivers on the road were maliciously spraying me with this filthy sludge. They probably stored their mélange in tanks under their cars, and sprayed it through invisible nozzles next to the exhaust pipe with a push of a button located conveniently next to the cup holder, inside their car. And next to that button, there was probably another button; this button, I was sure, when pressed, would shoot hunks of ice and snow off of the roof of their cars, striking my windshield.

I was willing to bet that these perpetrators were probably the same shady characters who were behind the inexplicable, sudden and unexpected change in water temperature in my shower that morning. One minute, the water felt great, and the next, I was jumping back, squealing, my eyes burning with shampoo, and my skin being scolded by the near boiling water. Someone has to be held to account! Right?

I think we’re much quicker to place blame, usually on innocent, or unwitting parties, when the offence against us is, in reality of little consequence. We so passionately, and sometimes even vocally, in cases like this, toss out blame without thought. Why are we willing to place blame in such insignificant cases, when, logically, we know that the accused party is almost certainly not to blame. My guess is that, like the incident that provoked the blame, placing blame is of little consequence. A serious conflict is not likely to be sparked, because the accused instantly recognized the absurdity of the accusation, and is able to shrug it off, taking no offence.

What we seem to be less willing to do, is to place blame for more serious transgressions, when the guilty party can be clearly identified. We’re afraid of sparking conflict. While people can shrug off an absurd and clearly false accusation, they’re much more sensitive to being called out for something for which they are actually responsible. They will deny, or make excuses, and escalate the situation.

All of this is not to say that we should never assign blame to those who are guilty. I’m not really sure what it all means, but maybe we should keep it all in mind next time we’re thinking of playing the blame game.

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