Blame by Brene Brown

Blame.  We hear kids do it all of the time:

Crying and anger erupt on the carpet in an otherwise peaceful classroom.

Ms. Smith: Why are you feeling sad?

Amy: Bonnie took my block, so I hit her.

Bonnie: Amy stole all of the rectangles and I needed them for my castle.  So, I took one back.

The blame goes round and round.  Almost like when you look in a mirror within another mirror–the reflections are never ending.

In other words, Amy is saying Bonnie’s action caused her to act unsafely or, I blame Bonnie for the fact that I hit her.  And, Bonnie is playing same blame game: I blame Amy for my action of taking the block without asking.  Yes, both situations most certainly cause upset, especially in young children.  However, maybe it’s easy for an adult to see how they each made the choice as to how they deal with the upset.  In other words, both Amy and Bonnie’s actions and/or words are their responsibility.  I hear adults telling children all the time–“make good choices.”  We adults are constantly trying to instill personal responsibility in our children.  We try to teach:

Of course stand up for yourself if something happens, but you are responsible for how you do so.  If someone hurts you, physically or emotionally, your response is your choice, or responsibility.  To blame the other child for your response isn’t ok.

But I think we need to look at what we ourselves, as adults, model.  If we’re honest, like Brene, we hear adults do it–we hear ourselves do it.

I was supposed to go on vacation this week.  My child got sick.  Another parent sent their child to school when her child had the sickness.  The school didn’t disinfect the surfaces and materials the child touched and didn’t do a good job of screening the kids for illness, allowing this sick child to be present with my healthy child.  Therefore, I blame the parent that brought her child to school and I blame the school for allowing the child to be there and not providing a place where my child can exist, germ free.  Because of the parent and the school, my child is now sick and I can’t go on my vacation.  But, something very important–I fail to consider any other factors–did the parent know the child was sick? Or, despite best efforts beyond what is expected to clean and sanitize on the teacher’s and school’s part, germs will inevitably spread.  Or, maybe my child was exposed to the germs at one of the many other places we went during that time.  In other words, maybe the situation was out of anyone’s control or best efforts to avoid.

So, why do humans seek to blame?

Brene says people need a “semblance of control.”  I get this for sure–I like to feel like I can do something about any situation that presents itself.

If I had the knowledge my child was being exposed to germs, I can choose whether or not to put them in the environment.

If I clean and disinfect everything, I can prevent my child’s exposure to germs that make them sick.

Certainly, these are both valid points.  I would never put my child, myself or anyone else for that matter into a situation where they are exposed to danger.  And, thorough cleaning and sanitizing does prevent the spread of germs and can help us all stay healthy.

But, in some instances, things happen that are beyond the controls we try to exert.  Despite feeling like you know if everyone is healthy–wait, how do we actually know this anyway?  By the way people look?  Someone can look like the picture of health but carry the most dangerous germs.  So, despite feeling like everyone is healthy, you may in fact put your child and yourself in the presence of germs that will make them or you sick.  With all of the places we go–think about it, the grocery store, the mall, the park, indoor playgrounds, school, after school classes, birthday parties, friends’ houses, even the doctor’s office to treat an illness, it’s impossible to prevent exposure to germs.

And, we can bleach every square inch our homes, cars and classroom and scrub with all of our might, but germs will still enter into the environment, inevitably.  New research even says that bacteria and viruses are changing to overpower even our best sanitation efforts.  (The Atlantic shows bacteria evolving to resist antibiotics.)

You can see, even with the best efforts, some things are out of our control–so you would think there would be no place for blame.

Brene says, “Blame is the discharging of discomfort and pain.”  So, according to this, when Amy blamed Bonnie and Bonnie blamed Amy, or when I blamed the parent who brought her child to school and the school itself, each of us were expelling discomfort and pain.  If you really think about it, it’s so true, with both children and adults.  We feel angry, frustrated, upset, sad and we try to find the reason so we can feel better and/or deal with “the cause”.  But, we fail to realize, sometimes, no one is to “blame,” as is the case with spreading germs and my not being able to go on vacation.  Sometimes we get sick because that is a part of life.  And other times, we lose sight that we may have some personal responsibility we can accept–as is the case with the hitting incident in the classroom.

The next time we witness blame, whether it be someone else blaming another for something that happened to them or story we tell ourselves that involves casting blame, we should consider what this does for us or for the person doing it.  And, maybe, rethink things.  Could it be that the what happens is a normal occurrence in life?  Could it be that we have some personal responsibility that we can accept?  Most importantly, the next time we ourselves decide to cast blame, we should consider the example we are for our children.

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