It's not the dog


no dog

Some thoughts on personal responsibility and blame.

The original sin

Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” Genesis 3:13
I interpret the Adam and Eve and the Snake in the Garden story as a profound insight on blame - not to minimize the disobedience thing, of course!

This story points to one of our most primal desires: to blame others and remain blameless ourselves. Eve blamed the snake (who probably blamed God), and naturally Adam blamed Eve.

Blame might be thought of as the original sin - at least psychologically. I have heard from friends and psychologists that the main defense of the ego is the "deny, project, blame" paradigm - deny that I have the problem, project it out on some other person, and blame them. Of course, this pattern applies to organizations of all stripes as well as individuals which I will point our later in this note.

The dog ate my homework

A few years ago I was visiting my daughter and her family in New Orleans, I wanted to take their dog Breesy (named after Drew Brees - if you are not from that area you could not possibly understand) on a short walk around neighborhood. As soon as I mentioned dog walk, everybody in the room jumped up and yelled: "you will be sorry!". My granddaughter excitedly told me that Breesy is impossible to walk as he will tangle the leash around your legs, will bark at anything that moves, and will make my arm sore with the pulling on the leash.

I've watched enough "dog training" shows and having trained a few dogs myself. So I had a pretty good idea of how to deal with Mr. Breesy. After leashing him up, I took him to the door and waited patiently while he clawed at the door. Breesy was certain that he was going to lead the walk as he had been carefully trained to do. The walk began with Breesy following me out the door (I was leading) and after a few minutes of my calm assertiveness and short-leashing him on my left side, Breesy began to get the idea that I was alpha and we were on my walk not his.

After about twenty minutes, I walked Breesy back to my daughters house and called the family outside to see the dog walking with me. Breesy was following my lead calmly on my left side slightly behind me with no tension on the leash. My family was, as you can imagine, astounded.

The obvious lesson here is that it is not the dog ... my family had, without realizing it, trained Breesy to be bark, pull, and pay no attention to the person holding the leash when walking. It is easy to blame the dog for its behavior so that we might avoid taking responsibility and to remain blameless like Eve was hoping to do.
Easier to blame than admit fault! Blaming (to avoid responsibility) is an embedded pattern for most of us, and certainly the hallmark of our politicians, and business leaders. .

The United States of blame

I'm going to dive right into the deep end of the pool here. I want to start this section with a discussion about Critical Race Theory , a hot topic right now, that is right at the bleeding heart of our 'blame' culture. CRT (Critical Race Theory) points out how we blame skin tone to deflect our attention away from the root causes of the racial problems in our country which are systemic and have mostly to do with justice and money.

I'm assuming that most of us do not know much about Critical Race Theory - what it is and what it might mean for our society in the future. I'll start here with a 'nutshell' explanation - at least as I understand it.

Critical Race Theory began in the 70's and 80's studying and reworking our legal system especially as it relates to the disparate treatment of different races especially blacks. It has several key tenets:

Critical Race Theory posits that there is no biological or physical basis of the idea of race but that it is a socially constructed invention to exploit (oppress) people of color.

Critical Race Theory also claims that racism is structural [systemic] and therefore invisible and a normal part of life to most of us . It is built into our laws and social institutions to maintain inequality between whites and nonwhites. Racism is not simply a matter of conflict between individuals based on skin tone.

Another key idea in Critical Race Theory is that 'equality' under the law causes oppression among minorities. Equal treatment under the law does not account for individual circumstances and leads to our prisons being flooded with black men.

Each of us, according to Critical Race Theory has a social identity [Critical Race Theory uses the term 'intersectionality' for this idea] based on many factors including gender, educational level, caste, sex, religion, disability, physical appearance and so forth. Critical Race Theory claims that these factors must be taken into account under the law (and education) in order to level the playing field.

In short Critical Race Theory is the study of structural racism to keep the status quo for the ruling whites and to suggest ways to change the structure of our society to be more fair to people of all colors. It is a radical upending of our current legal, social, and educational ways of life if it were to be adopted.

Here blame (the original sin) takes the form of blaming individuals for their racism instead of taking a deeper looks at what is causing such disparity in law, education, and money for minorities (based on skin tone). The point I'm making here and will make throughout this note is that blame is useful for keeping the status quo in our system that oppresses some for the benefit of others.

Consider that Black Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at nearly 5 times the rate of white Americans.

In 12 states, more than half the prison population is Black: Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.

Clearly there is something deeper going on there than skin color. This note is not about discerning why this is but to point out the power of blame. We do not want to see ourselves in the US as oppressors so we write off the disparity between blacks and whites in the prison system off to skin tone. Blame allows us to keep the status quo (oppressing blacks).

The next example of employing blame to hide a root cause (our consumer society) is switching from gasoline based cars to electric cars. Here the blameworthy are cars, trains, and ships that run on fossil fuels.

The second law of thermodynamics states that there is no free lunch. So we might consider switching one form of energy use for another, but there are always trade-offs. In the case of electric cars it turns out that to create the batteries for them, nickel is used. As you might guess, nickel mining is not very environmentally friendly.

Mining nickel along with its crushing and transportation can generate high loadings of toxic metals in the air including nickel itself, copper, cobalt and chromium. Of course it is highly energy intensive to extract and refine the metal, and, mining nickel involves the destruction of native vegetation and waste from the mining operation itself. I could go on but you get the point: substituting electric cars for fossil burning ones might not be as environmentally friendly as current messaging about it indicates.

So what we have here is another example of blaming (remember deny, project, blame). Blaming fossel fueled cars for the fact that our consumption of transporation is destroying our planet and eventually ourselves. It goes down much easier to blame fossil fueled cars, trains, and boats than to admit that we are causing the problem.

I want to talk next about Alcoholism, where blame plays a big role in the disease. There is a phrase in the literature of Alcoholics Anonymous that states that ALL of our troubles are of our own making.

Alcoholism is a disease of mind, body, and spirit. Its overriding feature is the denial of the disease itself. Alcoholics are masters of the blame game - blaming anything and everything to avoid looking at the root cause of all their troubles: themselves. As an aside, there is a brilliant statement on the symptoms of alcoholism: the first symptom is 'trouble', the second symptom is 'more trouble', and the third symptom is 'even more trouble'. Rarely do any of us want to admit that we are at fault.

The AA literature states unequivocally that recovery depends on taking personal responsibility, and stopping the blame game. To quote from the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous: "Where other people were concerned, we had to drop the word "blame" from our speech and thought. (12&12 Step Four, p.47)

The path to recovery (sanity) in AA is achieved through a twelve step program. In step four, after all of one's resentments, fears, and immoral behaviors are listed in black and white on paper, the question is asked: "What's my part in it?". This is the hardest pill to swallow in the whole recovery process - coming to grips with the fact that one's troubles are of one's own making.

Once blaming stops recovery begins.

I'll end with a few things to ponder about our country and its desire to be blameless. What would our politics and our place in the world be if we were to ask: "What's our part in it?". Consider the following situations.

What is going on that would cause eighteen men (all reasonably well educated) to fly two planes into the twin towers and attack the pentagon. We have never, at least in the popular news media, asked what were we doing that would generate this level of hate? Do we have any part in it?

What would cause Valdimir Putin to consider invading Ukraine at this time. Again I ask, as none of the news media are asking: >"What's our part in it". Are we completely blameless? As with any level of finger pointing there is usually three fingers pointing back to us.

Many of us moan and groan about the bifurcation of wealth and the one-percenters and how they are rigging the system to get even more wealth. This is true enough but do we as individuals have a part in this? What is my part in it? Some questions:

Do I patch my clothes when they show wear?

Do I mostly cook my meals at home?

Do I give Christmas presents to people who are already renting a storage space as their garages are already overflowing?

Do I always drive my car when I could sometimes walk or ride a bicycle?

I'll stop now but you get the idea. We no longer consider ourselves citizens but talk about ourselves as consumers. Should we be surprised that we are giving the one-percenters the rope with which they are hanging us. Goodness!

Peace be upon you.

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