Friday, October 27, 2017

The Blame Game: The Amorality of Making Everything Your Fault



Shame is a powerful tool, one I personally believe is a last resort. Sometimes shame truly is the best means to get someone to change their behavior, but it can be cruel, manipulative, and misdirected if used without restriction.

Truth is, you can shame someone pretty easily even if they logically realize they didn’t do anything wrong.

However, there is a philosophy about shame versus blame personality types suggesting that some personalities have the tendency to “shame” themselves while others have the tendency to “blame” others.

You’ve experienced it before, the person who plays the victim, who every time something goes wrong for them they practice extreme mental gymnastics in how everyone is to blame but themselves. And you’ve possibly been aware of someone who tends to assume everything is their fault, who is too hard on themselves, from the guy who panics over picking up his coworkers’ slack to the woman who claims being struck only happened because she talked back. Some people take responsibility for everything.

In all likelihood, you’ve been both at some point in your life. You’ve probably foolishly allowed someone to walk all over you, or worked tirelessly to find external solutions to problems caused by your own behavior. Most people fall somewhere in a spectrum and fluctuate back and forth. But overall, you probably have a tendency to err on one side or the other.

This isn’t a bad thing either. Life is full of gray areas and rarely is “who’s at fault” cut in stone. Trying to figure out both how others screwed us as well as how we messed up is the foundation of improvement and preventing something from happening again. It’s how you learn.

But what I find is, while many people criticize those who play the victim and feel it’s better to blame yourself, leaning too much in either direction is unhealthy and useless. An individual needs to, at least momentarily, reassess when something goes wrong to see if she can accurately decide what to do differently when it happens again.

I advise people that constructive criticism should be fun. It’s probably not going to be your first time around, and just because one meeting wasn’t that morale boosting, it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t useful. Overall, you should be striving to be inspired and high energy after discussing your work, and if you’re constantly leaving upset and distraught—shamed even—something needs to change.

Most advisors tend to blame the author. I think this is a pendulum issue; because the vast majority of new writers pass fault to those around them—"You didn’t understand it," "You’re just jealous," "You’re not representative of everyone," "You’re a jerk"—most people would assume that if you’re not having a good time, it’s because you’re an egomaniac.

But I find that the people first to accuse someone of defensiveness were pretty sensitive themselves. He who insists to ignore everyone else and just listen to him is going to be the one who lectures you on not taking others' opinions (his) well enough.

Despite the horror stories I like to tell here, most criticism sessions go well and the people who I work with leave feeling energetic and inspired.  The drama occurs when dealing with specific people. In about half the cases, I would say it’s more of an issue of different philosophies and tastes. Writers who like simplicity, are more literal minded, and I don’t get along intellectually. We can be pleasant of course, but their foundation of truth differs drastically from mine and it makes it hard to understand each other. If both of us try to respect the other’s viewpoint, this doesn’t matter; we can effectively talk things over. The issue arises when one of us is having a bad day, doesn’t like the way we’ve been spoken to, or allows for catharsis to eclipse logic, and the other responds with hostility.

Which is a fancy way of saying, in most cases, both of us are at fault. Or, another interpretation is, neither of us; sometimes you just aren’t the best fit for each other, sometimes you unintentionally say something that means something different to the listener than it meant for you.

Yet sometimes you are very much the cause of the issue. They’re trying hard to help you and you’re allowing your emotions to boil over. But, just as frequently, they’re at fault. They put no effort into respecting you or your opinion, demand for obedience with no actual authority, and are needlessly antagonistic solely because they think they can get away with it.

Which brings me to my point: people like that need to be treated differently than people who are trying in order to make a successful conversation.

If you’re not enjoying yourself in your critique sessions, the first step is to consider what you can change.

You can change how you react to things, certainly.

You can change how you approach things too.

But you can also change your environment, choose not to surround yourself with certain types of people.

In some situations, the best solution is to disengage and go about your way. It truly isn’t that you need to change yourself, but you need to find a place that fits you, your tastes, and your personality better.

However you can also run away from things. If the problem is actually in your attitude, you’re likely to find changing locations just transfers the problem. It’s also sometimes easier and more effective to try to fix something instead of constantly just attempting to replace it or start over. Most importantly, finding out what is really wrong is difficult when you keep starting from scratch rather than tweaking things here or there.

Some people insist that when you don’t like criticism you should look inward because it’s probably your fault, but I find that to be dangerous. I know too many kind-hearted people (not me) who were unfairly torn to shreds in a critique because they were dealing with assholes and amateurs. For these people who tend to blame themselves initially, being told that these attacks are their doing is counterproductive. They've already thought about why it happened to them, what they could have done differently, and someone else confirming their fears that they're just "too egotistical" to handle awful critiques exacerbates their lack of assertiveness. It’s far more productive to put shame and blame aside completely and look purely analytically for where things went wrong and what you have control over, regardless of who was "at fault."

So if you don’t like getting criticized, evaluate the situation accordingly. You’re not a jerk, they’re not a jerk, things just happened.

When things go wrong, say to yourself…

I made a decision based on the information I had at the time. I had my reasons.

Then ask yourself…

What were those reasons?

Hindsight is 20-20. Sometimes things make a lot more sense after the moment has passed. Objectively determining what went wrong without seeking who’s to blame (including yourself) will give you more experience to make an informed decision next time around.

If you’re not use to self-reflecting, this can be difficult to remember what exactly caused you to get upset and/or why. You need to practice putting yourself in others’ shoes before you’re good at it, while also remembering not to get so obsessed with other people’s thoughts that you stop respecting your own. It’s okay to say, “I don’t understand where he was coming from,” and move on if you can’t figure it out.

It’s not a good thing to think everything is your fault all of the time. That can lead to unreasonable insecurity as well as make you a target for jackasses and manipulation. While the believe that blaming everyone else for your problems won’t solve anything either, it’s important to realize that you can’t control everything.



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