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.
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.