"Blame" means finger-pointing: assigning responsibility to somebody—specifically, somebody else!—for an unhappy outcome or circumstance.

Who doesn't, just about every day, find and use a chance to blame another person for problems great and small? And what collective task, if it fails, doesn't provoke a flurry of "blamestorming" as groups work feverishly to figure out why punishment belongs elsewhere for the shortcoming?

But most of the time, once passions have cooled or time has passed, we see that "...the fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves...." It's an interesting and potentially high-payoff experiment to avoid blaming anyone else. Instead, one can try to change the default to immediately taking responsibility.

Arnold Bennett described it nicely: Pretend that you alone have free will, and everyone else is utterly predestined to do what they do. That sounds unfair—but the result in daily life is an amazing liberation, like cutting a Gordian knot. Suddenly other people are no longer malign forces bent on blocking progress; they're more like natural phenomena, rocks, trees, winds. There's no need to get angry or frustrated with them. It's not the rock's fault for tripping me; I overlooked it. If someone causes me trouble, perhaps they were brought up badly, or they're physically ill, or they're basing their actions on incorrect information. I can offer them helpful advice, but I cannot make them take it.

In contrast to acts by others, if I choose unwisely and create (or contribute to) a bad situation, I have done wrong. I could have done otherwise. The fault is mine. I can and will do better.

Marcus Aurelius in his personal notebooks labeled "To Himself" (also known as Meditations) returns to this point again and again. Taking responsibility, completely and unconditionally, is a central tenet of Stoic philosophy. No one has ever succeeded in doing it, or even approaching it. But what a goal to strive for, every day!

Saturday, May 15, 1999 at 20:17:44 (EDT) = 1999-05-15

TopicLife - TopicBennett

(correlates: Mystery Men, SuckItUp, DoLess, ...)