June 5, 2020
When something goes wrong, we are all frustrated. Money was lost, time was wasted, something went wrong and now we need to find the cause of it. We need to find whom to blame.
There are some words in the English language I have come to loath, as they are misused, misunderstood and only cause harm and conflict. Blame is one of those words.
When something goes wrong we feel horrible, we need to deal with our feelings and therefore we need to find someone to blame. When the Arab world was soundly defeated by Israel in only six days in 1967, they needed to find someone to blame. One courageous man, Fouad Ajami, addressed this in his book, The Arab Predicament, in which he analyzed the Arab tendency to blame others, believe lies, believe lies that they themselves created, and shift blame to anyone but themselves. He pointed out that the fault for the defeat was in the Arabs behavior themselves and their tendency to believe fantasies. My point in this example is the outsider willing to say, Hey Guys, stop blaming others, look at yourself. It is you who are responsible for this mess.
Let us look at Blame and the way it serves our purposes. In my opinion, these days Blame is used in two extreme ways, both counter productive. We use blame because we wish to relieve our own sense of guilt. What this means in plain English is we want to feel good about ourselves, it is about feelings. We wish to retain our self image which we created for ourselves. If I dance poorly, it is because the floor is uneven, crooked. If my car crashed, it is because there was a problem with the road. I was not responsible, I am not to be blamed, and this way I can retain my self-image; I am flawless, there is someone or something else to blame for my lack of success. The practical implication of this is that I make no attempt to change, why should I? I am already perfect, without flaw. That is the nature of blaming others.
Thus one extreme side of Blame is that all the blame is shifted to someone else, some factor out of my personal control. I lost my business because of the general economic situation, I lost my girlfriend because all women are insane. I am perfect. Practical result: Nothing is achieved, nothing is learned, no progress is made, and nothing is done to avoid this situation in the future.
Throughout history the Jews have been used as the eternal scape goat; if there is a problem, blame the Jews. With the outbreak of the Black Death in 1346, the Bubonic Plague, the Christians of Europe took immediate action and killed the Jews, in their tens of thousands. Entire Jewish communities ceased to exist. Somehow that did not solve the problem. The result: Nothing was learned and the plague returned again and again over the next six centuries.
The other approach to Blame is more modern; you are not allowed to blame anyone, ever, you can't even hint at it. Why? Because someone's feelings might be hurt. For example, when I was teaching at the University of Richmond, VA, USA, the following scenario was presented to me and they were seeking my wise advice. Young men, young women, coming home late at night from parties, walking alone through a park, are attacked and robbed. What can we do? Show us a technique. My answer did not please anyone!
I said, let me understand (and do not expect political correctness here). Young, rich, well dressed, preppy, and yes mostly white, college students, walking home alone, through a park, drunk, in an area populated by those who are the direct opposite. You might as well wear a sign saying...Free stuff here! Other than Drunken style Kung Fu I did not have more to offer them. Such is life.
Another popular theme on social media these days, which I have addressed before, is the issue of how to dress. I addressed this in terms of religious/ethnic groups and women. Just yesterday I saw another post, don't blame the victim. But this is not about blame.
Telling a young woman to dress less provocatively in public is not about blaming the victim. Under no circumstances are these random attacks justified. But advising people to dress sensibly is not about "Blaming the victim", it is about being wise and trying to avoid trouble. In another post this morning I saw something that made sense; a man was saying that when he began to drive his mother advised him, if you are pulled over by the police, place both hands on the steering wheel, turn your head towards the police officer and say, "Yes officer, how can I help you?" Show respect and you are far less likely to get in trouble.
When I was young my mother gave me similar advice, and it has served me well over the years. Save your attitude for the party with your friends, tell them your manufactured stories of glory, how you outsmarted a cop and beat up some bum in the pub. Your friends might actually believe you. But in the real world learn to behave respectfully.
Thus our two extremes in dealing with Blame are: 1. Find someone or something to dump the blame on, thus you are free from guilt and absolved of all sins, and certainly have no reason to change your evil ways. And 2. Never under any circumstances blame anyone for anything, all are OK, things happen, never even imply that someone's behavior is related to the negative consequences. The idea of...Make Stupid decisions get bad prizes, (or something like that) should never be uttered, lest someone is offended.
Now lets' take a third approach. We seek blame initially, not for the purpose of shaming anyone nor for the purpose of absolving ourselves from Sin, but simply to try and figure out what went wrong. If we do not locate the source of the problem, we cannot fix it.
Let us take an example. I have a dear friend who is a plumber. One apartment dweller was complaining about water leaking into his apartment and causing serious damage. Of course he wants this to be stopped. Someone is to blame. One of the upper apartments is the cause of this leak. But, heaven forbid we should blame anyone! My friend took out several tiles and found the source of the problem, now he knows which apartment is the source of the water leak. Now he can fix it.
The point is we don't take out the dwellers from the apartment which is the source of the leak. We do not post their photos on the Wall of Shame. We do not parade them around town and say...Behold! These people are the cause of the water leakage. No, not at all. But in order to fix the problem we need to know the source of the problem.
When I bring my car to the mechanic I want to know if there is something I can go differently in the future to avoid this hassle and expense. I ask him, what is the cause of the problem, i.e. Who is to blame? Often the answer will be, Moshe, it is not you and there is nothing you can do, such are the nature of machines, parts wear out over time.
But there are times when there is something I can do. My dear mother was in the hospital for a long time and no one drove her car. The good mechanic told me, Moshe, You must take the car out for a long drive. You must reach a certain speed, take the car to the highway at least once a week.
It was not a matter of blaming me, it was to help me avoid having to replace the battery again. I hate wasting time and money.
We use Blame to locate the source of the problem and then we let go of it. Once we know the source of the problem we can fix it, we can learn what to do differently in the future. We are not blaming the Obese man/woman for heart disease, we are not blaming the scantily clad woman for rape, we are not blaming the store owner who forgot to lock the door or left a window open for robbery, we are seeking to correct mistakes and avoid heartache in the future.
While writing this blog there was a power shortage, beep...the computer was off. In the past I would lose all my work and I would have to start the blog from the beginning, because I never used to save my work. I became frustrated and blamed the electric company. Now it is true, it was their fault. But it was not their fault that I did not save my work, That is on me. There are things I can do to avoid this trouble, in my case, save my work every few minutes. As a result this time I only lost a few words.
I see in Israel huge protests; during the Corona lock down domestic violence increased greatly. Sadly at least nine women were murdered. Thousands of women took to the streets, (no social distancing by the way), and demanded an end to violence. Noble idea but I am not sure how the protests help. Killing is already a crime, the police are doing their best. What I did not see is the thousands of women marching to the Krav Maga dojo demanding, we want the right to learn to defend ourselves. I do not see thousands, hundreds, or even a dozen.
The dojo is open, the fees are very reasonable, we are waiting for you.
Blame is not enough, no one is blaming the victim so hold your "Calling out", we are not victim shaming. We are saying be responsible. And as I wrote to the woman on social media. Yes, I expect women to dress responsibly and yes I expect all people to respect the police, respect law and order. This does not mean I condone rape, this does not mean I condone police brutality, and both do exist in this world. We have not yet reached Utopia and we shall not. It means rather than seeking blame with others, with "the system", see what you can do, see what we can do. Don't misuse the word "Blame".
As Anne Frank wrote "...the great thing is, we can start making the world a better place today, right now." And she was writing during the darkest time in human history, from her hiding place, the secret annex. You can visit her now.
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