The blame game


January 17th, 2010

I’m fed up with the blame game – so much energy spent on trying to figure out who’s at fault, who’s responsible. It’s rife from domestic arguments to national disasters; it’s institutionalised by Royal Commissions and official inquiries, and it’s used to rationalise the inexplicable.

Blaming is part of the ‘What happened?’ Conversation. In their book Difficult Conversations, Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen describe the ‘What happened?’ Conversation as the place “where we spend much of our time in difficult conversations as we struggle with our different stories about who’s right, who meant what, and who’s to blame. On each of these three fronts – truth, intentions and blame – we make a common but crippling assumption.”

They provide the following summary of these three elements of the ‘What happened?’ Conversation.

The Truth Assumption: I am right, you are wrong.

The Intention Invention: We assume we know the intention of others when we don’t. Worse still, if we are unsure of someone’s intentions, we too often decide they are bad.

The Blame Frame: Talking about fault is similar to talking about truth – it produces disagreement, denial, and little learning. It evokes fears of punishment and insists on an either/or answer.

That’s bad enough. Even worse when ill-informed people attribute blame for natural disasters. So I’m reproducing here a post from Tales From the Hood, a blog focusing on “rants, raves, and confessions, and a few tall tales about humanitarian aid work.”

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I confess that I spent much of today grumpy about David Brooks’ incredibly unhelpful op-ed in the Jan. 14 New York Times, entitled “The Underlying Tragedy.”

At first read he sounds rational. He sounds considered. He’s read Bill Easterly’s latest book. He sounds like he knows what he’s talking about.

At first glance, David Brooks seems to stand out as a voice of reason against the backdrop of Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh, with their over-the-top, self-righteous and inflammatory arrogance. Leaving aside for the sake of this post Brooks’ outrageous conclusion that we should engage in “intrusive paternalism”, the part that gets me is that when you think about it, their messages all boil down to the same thing.

Their message is: Haiti brought this on itself. Haiti deserved what it got.

And I just do not have words strident enough to convey how wrong that is.

No, it wasn’t the voodoo…

It wasn’t the corruption or the graft…

It wasn’t promiscuity…

It wasn’t Haiti’s “progress-resistant” culture…

It’s not divine retribution…

God did not make this happen…

I think it’s incredibly important that we not allow ourselves or our constituents to believe that somehow Haiti is complicit in it’s own tragedy:

Haiti doesn’t deserve this.

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