Nathanael Garrett Novosel, March 15 2023

Someone Else Is to Blame. So What?

Blaming others is the fastest, easiest way to avoid responsibility. We all know what it is like for someone to wrong us and for that person to be the reason why we are having a problem. And, if possible, we can try to respond, retaliate, or hold the person accountable. But, there's another side to this, which is what you do afterwards and whether it is, in fact, the right thing to do. Here, we'll evaluate how people often act when placing blame and if it is, in fact, what is best for them in the situation.

Let's start with the actions that are pretty clear and universally appropriate: if someone wrongs you, you can stand up for yourself by calling out the issue and trying to resolve it. Additionally, if you have evidence and the wrong was criminal in nature, you can seek justice via the legal system. The reason for legal punishment is five-fold: the offender is punished, separated from society, rehabilitated, required to provide some form of restitution, and deterred from performing the act again. (note: this is not a judgment of the effectiveness of jail in performing those functions) By identifying a problem and addressing it, you take action within your control to improve the situation.

Now, let's talk about where blame is less useful. Politics is most popular where blame is place to gain votes for certain policies, but it devolves into blaming the other side for everything without ever really putting forward a superior solution. Blaming your genetics or other uncontrollable factors might help if you can do something to mitigate their consequences, but it doesn't help to focus on uncontrollable factors. Most unproductively, you can blame other factors for your problems in life, but it doesn't actually make your life better to do so unless it's something where the problem can also be solved by that individual.

Here's where things get controversial because people want to get defensive about why they blame others, but we'll go through a few common ones. The most notable one in the news is in political situations where someone blames the other party for all of the problems in the world but doesn't discuss the solution and how it solves it. While it does "rally the base" in elections where voter turnout is the most important part of elections, but in a situation where turnout was evenly match or 100%, this would not convert a single person and so is functionally useless. You see this in social issues as well where people blame groups for their problems, such as one sex for the other sex's issues or certain races for another race's issues. Even assuming that those statements were correct, you still can't control an entire group of people with no real connection other than that they share a few additional common DNA elements than others. Finally, you can blame external circumstances like a test being too difficult or a delay being due to bad weather, but that doesn't help you except for with the person who might want to punish you for it. Excuses are just that: making people feel less bad about something without anything actually changing.

And that's where we get to the "so what" part of this post. So what if your parents said something mean to you 20 years ago? So what if you got passed over for a promotion when you deserved it because your manager picked someone they were friends with? So what that it's the fault of criminals that you can't walk around freely at night? Unless you're looking for pity or for an excuse to give up on your life, these excuses don't change anything for you. Yes, men are stronger than women and also more aggressive and so women don't feel safe at night. You can't control the world; you can just protect yourself from those situations. That's what's within your control. That doesn't make it right for criminals to commit crimes, and it is still their fault if they harm you in any way. But that blame doesn't mean that you should just behave irresponsibly and then demand that the world owes you something if something bad happens. Regardless of what is true or what happens, it is ultimately your responsibility to do whatever you can that is within your control to make your life better.

We see this as one of the big differences between successful people and unsuccessful people. Wealthy people procure security even though it's "other people's fault" that they need it. Rather than complain, they just address the additional risk with additional risk aversion. Strong women understand their value and so choose to protect themselves in a variety of ways rather than hoping that the world will change for them. Adults with traumatic childhoods try to respond to that trauma in a positive way by helping others in similar situations rather than using it as an excuse to be mean toward their loved ones. Successful business owners find a way to work around restrictive laws (or lobby to remove them). Successful families find a way to forgive and work around personality conflicts even though a person might do something very hurtful that they can't take back. Successful sports teams overcome injuries, and successful students overcome difficult tests and "trick questions" to pass. All success stems from someone taking things that could be used as an excuse to give up or to be irresponsible and to shift the focus toward things that are within his or her control.

And so while the title of this blog post is intentionally harsh, it is an unfortunately necessary one to reflect the lack of fairness to the physical universe. If something bad happens to you, the Earth does not care and can't make things right. People can, but they will usually only act if they have the power to do so and see their action as necessary, such as in a legal dispute. Otherwise, people have their own problems and will prioritize their own life progress over stopping to help you with every slight that you find in yours. As a result, it's better that you find constructive ways to make your life better rather than trying to use blame as a means to both absolve yourself of responsibility and hopefully get someone else—either the perpetrator or a confidant—to do work on your behalf to fix the problem. No matter what happens and who causes it, it it ultimately your responsibility to take care of yourself and push your own life forward.

Remember that while an act might have a traumatic short-term impact that takes a while to recover from, your own thoughts and beliefs that come from that event can cause problems for you for an entire lifetime if you let it. That's where blame is the most dangerous—even forgetting the direct results and your immediate response for a moment, holding onto that blame can cause you to be a jerk years later or cause you to sabotage your own life by giving up or repeating the same mistakes. And that's why the "so what" question is so important to ask yourself: not just "so what" that they did it because you have to fix it, but "so what" that something bad happened to you because that should not be a reason that you treat someone else poorly.

Yes, bad things will happen in life. Yes, you should do your best to hold others accountable where possible and appropriate because it might prevent further harm and also give you some restitution. It's also important to address issues to maintain relationships by not allowing resentment and other issues to build over time. But once everything within your control is done in terms of response (including doing the math as to whether it's worth fighting or simply moving on), you need to get off the blame train and back onto your success path. This is much easier said than done, but it still needs to be said as a reminder that holding onto pain beyond its point of usefulness in keeping you safe will become a burden that will begin to hold you back from succeeding. It's someone else's responsibility when they wrong you, but it's your responsibility to protect yourself from harm and to build your life back up when you face unfortunate life circumstances.

Written by

Nathanael Garrett Novosel


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