Saturday, June 08, 2013

Blame or Responsibility? Point the finger!

Would you rather get blamed, or held responsible for something?

When something bad happens, I notice that there often replies about the importance of taking responsibility and frequent rebuttals about not pointing the finger or blaming. But hold on, what exactly is the difference?

According to Wikipedia (for example), blame can be defined as the act of holding responsible. Certainly, in usage, you'll see that blame is usually given, and responsibility is more often taken, but I'd say those are just tricks of language -- I can accept blame for myself and hold others responsible just as well.

So I'd like to stop pretending that this is a real difference. You may have some clever way of distinguishing between them, but for the average person, the only difference is one of implicit value (responsible = good, blame = bad), and that really doesn't help us at all when it comes to public debate or private argument.

Okay, so I'm not so naive as to think it's all a textual misunderstanding that I'm going to fix with some clever logic. I recognize that there's a good reason that we have these two words - for example, people's lives and livelihoods frequently depend on the allocation of responsibility/blame, and in most real life examples, assigning blame/responsibility is not a question of fact, but of interpretation, so suddenly power and politics and - more often than not - money is also involved. Having different words with different values allows for some clever social engineering.

But what I'd really like is to stop seeing comments with the subtext "it's wrong to blame". We make mistakes, and people with a lot of power need to be careful when assigning responsibility, but that shouldn't stop us from asking important questions about why bad things come to be, thinking about how to change them, and making tentative suggestions about the way forward.

In the media, it's done all the time with politicians and other leaders, and we consider that fair game, so let's not pretend only evil people are to blame. We all make mistakes, so can we be willing to take the blame? It doesn't have to be the end of the world.

Go ahead, point the finger. Maybe you're wrong, and let's just start by saying that's okay. Assigning blame can be the start of a beautiful conversation if you're not afraid to say or hear it.

And, if you're still reading, next on my wish list is: severe financial penalties for politicians who make knowingly false statements to the press. Doug Ford, I'm pointing my finger at you. Stephen Harper, watch your step.

Wondering about the donut? It's my credit to Earl Miles and his angry donuts.