Whose Fault Is It?

“Hmm, who messed it up?”

No matter what happens, this tends to be the first thing everyone wants to know. Who messed up, who is to blame? Entire societies seem to revolve around it, including election campaigns. Why? What do we get from knowing whose fault something is?

Perhaps it is because we are such social beings, which makes the social implications of someone’s actions feel much more relevant than its underlying causes or challenges. After all, societies have always been happy to identify scapegoats to dump the blame on, only to then keep going without changing anything.

I am wondering this, because just by itself the search for who is to blame seems entirely unconstructive. Think of all the time and resources spent. Only for everyone to deflect, accuse and point fingers everywhere. All the while, the problem at hand, whatever it may be, is left ignored. This, too, holds true on all levels – from family quarrels to international disputes.

Come to think of it, this makes a lot of sense. After all, when we find someone else guilty of something, we can conveniently take ourselves out of the equation. We can believe that as soon as the guilty has been identified, the problem has been solved.

Easy to point fingers.

However, this line of thinking has never been true. Blaming everything bad in the world on “the other”, on any level, has only always served to perpetuate the system that produced the problems to begin with.

And this is where we get to the core of the issue, I think. It seems to me that this obsession with guilt ultimately serves a single purpose, which is to avoid the flipside of guilt: Responsibility.

Because while guilt can be given to others, responsibility must be taken. As such, taking responsibility is a proactive, an empowering act. But it is also an act that does not allow us to separate ourselves from what is going on, making it far more inconvenient and uncomfortable.

Taking responsibility means looking at ourselves first. How are my actions in society contributing to the situations we find ourselves in? Which part am I playing in causing another person to act in a certain way? Usually, doing this we find things we could do better ourselves – hence the discomfort. This is particularly hard with things we have difficulty identifying with, such as murder, rape or systemic racism.

But responsibility is not the same as guilt. Taking responsibility does not mean identifying yourself as the cause of something bad, instead of someone else. Responsibility simply means taking stock of your own agency and using it. And one thing is certain: The measure of responsibility anyone can take varies, but it is never zero.

At the end of the day, nothing exists in a vacuum. Every system we are a part of is also a part of us, meaning that we can always take some measure of responsibility for everything that goes on in that system.

Looking at it like this, the question of guilt almost becomes irrelevant, or even destructive. It rarely contributes to solutions or understanding and instead perpetuates causes. So, whose fault is it? I don’t care. Let’s look at how we can take responsibility for solutions instead.

43 thoughts on “Whose Fault Is It?

  1. Awesome post. Very well written. Many people hide their mistakes even if it isn’t so big. They keep on lying rather than taking responsibility and save themselves.

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  2. in the case of the corona virus in Victoria no one wants to take responsibility for the fiasco: I think this, while understandable, is shameful:it creates an aura of irresponsibility and gross neglicence

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  3. Great post! I absolutely appreciated this sentence:

    “While guilt can be given to others, responsibility must be taken.”

    This is one of those statements that make you go hmmm… It takes your thought process to a deeper level. LOVE IT!

    It would be great for all of us to focus more on responsibility rather than looking to assign fault.

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  4. Hear, hear! I agree with you, be responsible. I’m a problem solver stuck in a world of whiners and partisanship. I tire of these political people, often reminding them that it is “WE the people” not “us versus them the people.” My comment may fall on deaf ears, but I try…

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  5. Sadly, it’s been the first unwritten rule in politics for a long time, and almost defines what politics now is. In short, it’s an emotional process, rather than a rational one. It can be highly destructive.

    Blaming someone else creates a circuit breaker for a whole range of reasons: allows “us” to avoid the issue, makes us look good, we can get up to something else while everyone is distracted by our blame tactic and so on. Some of “us” even feel good about behaving this way.

    When politicians, friends, families, team mates and acquaintances focus on the rational aspects rather than the emotional through keeping an open mind and deciding to work together, great things happen.

    That’s not to say being emotional is not important, because it is. In the right context, emotion is a clear sign that there is an issue and it’s the most immediate way for us to let our needs be known. It’s how we and others handle emotions after an outburst is the important factor.

    I love the trash example talked about here. If I see someone drop rubbish, I have always said you need to pick that up. Of course that is quite a difficult situation to deal with. If no one is around, and it is safe to do so, I will dispose of the piece of rubbish myself.

    Owning up to a “faux pas” or other mistake is difficult, but when you do, we can fix it together and all move on and get some really positive life changing, family changing, workplace changing and world changing stuff done.

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    1. What you said last is the dream, yes. It is a complex endeavor to get there, though, because of the web of social, emotional, and other factors involved. In the trash example, you could also argue the opposite way, in that picking it up for someone else simply removes the responsibility from them, thus perpetuating their bad behavior. Of course this would presuppose the assumption that the person who dropped the piece of trash did so on purpose, and thus actively decided against taking responsibility for it and has to be taught better of it.

      In a way, being constructive about these things requires the whole package of rationality, emotional understanding, treating each case as unique even if different aspects of it are similar to others, being aware of our and others’ assumptions, etc. But I think that especially because it is so complex and we are all human, it is warranted to not assume the worst when someone fails to take responsibility for something in our eyes – and take such a situation as cause for ourselves to step up instead.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Fantastic post! The part about ” this obsession with guilt ultimately serves a single purpose, which is to avoid the flipside of guilt: Responsibility” is so true! Too few people accept responsibility and are too quick to place blame and guilt on others.

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  7. Great commentary as always ❤ finding out the root cause of any problem has value, but only if the knowledge is used for creating solutions and preventive measures. But just like you said, it’s just too easy to play the blame game, and then disregard any further responsibilities.

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    1. Thank you! And yes I agree, finding the root cause, and especially addressing grievances is important as well. The question is always what the constructive thing to do is. The point I was trying to make here is that the focus on guilt and fault tends not to be the most constructive thing in many cases.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. OMG I need to print this out and send it to my workplace… there is so much emphasis on the root cause analysis to identify the offender and this generally means that the solution comes in second place. I agree that a solution must be found and responsibility taken but in order of priority the solution should come first. Thanks for sharing such a brilliant post 😊

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  9. Thank you: this clears up something I’ve long been confused about. A friend and I were in a classroom waiting for class to start, and I saw a bit of trash on the floor, which students entering kept walking around (near the doorway). I got up, picked it up, and put it in the trash, then sat back down. My friend asked why I’d done that, and I said “someone might trip on it.” It was not my fault, not my job, I’d had nothing to do with it being there, but I was bothered by it, so I did something about it. So, is that the difference between fault, and taking responsibility?

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    1. Yes, I think that is an excellent example! By just picking up the bit of trash and throwing it away you took responsibility by enacting a solution, rather than focusing on who is at fault. On top of that you showed empathy – not only for those who may have tripped over the bit of trash, but also for whoever dropped it there. After all, they may not have done it on purpose in the first place.

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      1. Thank you! And it never occurred to me to fault anyone, since people drop papers all the time. Especially in a hurry, at the front of the classroom. Ok, once again, way past my bedtime (it’s past midnight here), so sending Safe Air Hugs in both of your directions, gentlemen!
        Good night,
        Shira

        Liked by 1 person

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