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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Charlottesville and the Shame and Blame Game

In the aftermath of the tragedy in Charlottesville, I believe we have yet again seen the biggest reason we don't have change on significant social issues in America. The reason is that we are much more interested in playing the blame game than in working toward substantive change. The blame game is much easier than working for change, because it creates the illusion that we have done something when we haven't accomplished a thing. In that way, the blame game is a lot like and the other petition sites that try to tell us signing one of their petitions is a powerful action. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

Our love affair with blame is directly related to our love affair with shame. Shame is a toxic alternative to guilt, which is healthy. Guilt says, I did something wrong. Shame says, I am wrong, defective in my very being. Shame is used, to our detriment, every day by parents, managers, and
friends to control and manipulate others, and unfortunately many of us buy into it. You can hear it in our self-talk when we say things like, "I'm so stupid," or "I'm such a jerk," or "I can get anything right," and a host of other statements wherein we express our belief that we are not enough. One of the possible, and frequent, results is that we carry our shame and constantly look for places to dump that shame by projecting it onto others - which brings me back to Charlottesville and people's reaction to it.

One of the best examples of the blame game in the aftermath of Charlottesville was the statement that "all white people are responsible for Charlottesville." This is what a liberal shame dump looks like. Unless you are willing to say that all people of color are responsible for the kid of color who robs a convenience store, you can't say that all white people are responsible for Charlottesville. This tactic is all about people trying to move past what has happened as quickly as they can rather than looking at the real causes of tragedy and working to change them.

The Buddha is said to have taught about a man shot with a poison arrow. He said that if you are shot with a poison arrow, it's not the time to ask who shot it, what kind of poison it is, or where the arrow was made. Instead, you pull it out. The blame game keeps us focused on the past and not looking to what comes next, what we should do now. I can guarantee that the solution to any problem lies in the present moment, not in the past. The blame game operates completely in the past and keeps us stuck there. It is important to know how a problem developed, but it is much more important to work to solve the problem. To be successful at problem solving, we need to move from shame to a healthier understanding of ourselves and our actions.


  1. I understand what you are trying to point out and it is necessary to move forward. However I don't believe that we can if we do not also acknowledge our guilt in perpetuating a white dominant system. Just as the people of post-Hitler Germany had to understand and accept their collective guilt so must the white people of the US. It is remarkable to me that we continue to teach our kids about Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis,Stonewall Jackson, etc., as if they were heroes. Why would they be OK with tearing down their statues or getting rid of their names on schools? In 12 step programs, the 9th step says that we acknowledge the harm we did to someone, show how we will make amends for that harm, and then go ahead to lead our lives in this new spirit. I do not believe that we, as a culture, have yet acknowledged the evil we have done to all people of color,including the various native peoples, African Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos. Latinos, and Central Americans. Until that is done, we will continue to have racial and ethnic problems.

    1. I hear what you are saying. The thing is that there is this trend among liberals (and I am far from conservative) that seeks to portray individuals to accept shame and blame for social problems that have existed since before they were born. Nobody alive today was alive when white supremacy began - nobody. Are the roots in colonialism? Probably, but it may well be the work of several doctoral dissertations to fully understand its roots. So, rather than wallow in the pools of shame that liberals would create, I believe we do much better to set ourselves to the task of building relationships to change the system. It's not dramatic work, so many won't like it. The truth is that American culture worships the god of economics, and until we change that it is going to be an uphill battle at best. Rather than lashing out in search of mea culpas that accomplish nothing because you can't accept responsibility for that which you didn't create, we need to look at precisely who is resisting this change. It's not the shrinking middle class or the growing underclass, because we don't have the economic clout necessary. It is quite clearly corporate America, it is quite clearly politicians of all stripes, and it is our propensity for teaching and supporting violence through war while at the same time wondering why there is so much violence in our culture. We have no money for education, no money for infrastructure, no money for social programs, but all the money we need to kill people. If we managed to educate these redneck hillbillies who are supporting the current administration so that they could see they are acting contrary to their best interests, it would be a start. Instead, however, we will play the blame game to avoid doing the hard work of building relationships with Bubba. It's a complete waste of time.