In relationships, a focus on who’s to blame can be a sign of many things: not feeling heard or valued, not being willing to set your own personal boundaries, anger, a desire to make the other person feel how much they have hurt you. But it is typically not about finding a solution.

Cultivating solutions requires a deep understanding of a situation. Solutions are hard to achieve without understanding the other person’s point of view. What constraints or challenges do they face? What are the feelings or emotions that lie below what the person is saying? What is their deepest desire in this relationship? What do they want to do with their one precious life? Do we, perhaps, want the same things?

Blame runs rampant in our country. If there’s a manufacturing glitch, we want to know whose fault it was. Here in Shasta County when something has gone wrong, we focus on the individual, the “bad apple” at whose feet we can lay blame. Get rid of them, and we’ll all be better off.

Even in the absence of wrongdoing, it is seductive to blame anyway. We’re angry. We look for an outlet.  We blame without evidence. And we expect few constraints on our right to speak while demanding protection from slander.

Anger can be an important indication that something is amiss. We all deserve to be heard and we all deserve to feel safe expressing our opinions.  It is, indeed, important that we listen to what lies below the anger. But simply hurling anger against those who oppose or support vaccination or mandates prevents us from fully being in conversation with another, from understanding.

When public dialogue is stunted by a focus on who to blame, we all suffer. There are many costs to a focus on solving our problems through recall, firing, shaming, doxing, threatening, and boycotting. The economic costs are clear and there are social costs as well. These include shrinking the pool of those willing to step forward to serve, shifting energy from action to addressing misinformation and disinformation, a focus on self-protection rather than collaborative creation, more tearing down than building up, revenge instead of justice. 

It is always easier to tear down than build up. It is easier to find a scapegoat for our discontent than to work collectively for the public good and engage in the difficult, sometimes messy work of creating a way forward. There will always be challenges to face; the question is how we will face them if we care both about the outcome and about others.

Put simply, finding fault is easy. Doing the work you’ve criticized isn’t.

What is the end game of blame? And what is our collective and individual responsibilities to contribute to the public good? What is the fruit of revenge but more suffering?

Thich Nhất Hạnh, the Vietnamese monk and peace activist nominated for a Nobel prize by Dr. Martin Luther King, brought this to our attention when he said, “When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce.” Better to examine the soil, make sure there is sufficient light and water, that the seeds have been planted well. You are better off to look deeply into what allows the lettuce to thrive.  If those conditions are not there, you’re likely to keep blaming lettuce season after season.

Blame and revenge can feel cathartic in the moment. My guess is that every person alive has blamed someone for something at some point and felt that momentary freedom of having to contribute to change or examine one’s own responsibility. It’s a bit like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. There is a quote attributed to Confucius, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” 

We’ve been building graveyards here in Shasta County for a while. What would it be like to use our collective energy to build something better?

Sharon Brisolara holds a masters in Human Service Administration and a PhD in Program Evaluation and Planning, with concentrations in Rural Sociology and Women’s Studies, both from Cornell University. She is an educator, writer, program evaluator, and Resilience and Equity Coach. Her monthly Op-Ed column for Shasta Scout discusses the equity challenges facing our community through a variety of lenses including poetry, research, resilience coaching, and sociology.


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