Thursday, March 19, 2009

Drive All Blames into One

This slogan, drawn from the Tibetan system of mind-training known as "Lojong," suggests that rather than looking for someone else to blame when things go wrong, it might be simpler and more productive to cut the crap and accept responsibility for it ourselves.

When a situation goes sour in the office or in some social setting, usually we find everyone (including ourselves) sitting around pointing the finger and looking for someone else to blame. Stepping forward and taking responsibility for the screw-up is the last thing on anyone's mind, and when someone does take responsibility it can defuse the tension and change the whole atmosphere. Suddenly everyone can relax again, no longer afraid that the hot potato of blame is going to stop with them. I've experimented with this a few times at the office, and it does have an effect (not least of all, on one's own mindstream). Even if you know in your own mind that the screw-up isn't really your fault, accepting the blame allows the whole group to move on and fix the situation.

Consider this example, from today's New York Times:

"Washington is all in a tizzy over who's at fault. Some say it's the Democrats' fault, [or] the Republicans' fault. Listen, I'll take responsibility, I'm the president."

- President Obama, on the fury over executive bonuses at the American International Group

What an amazing thing to witness in Washington politics. What a grown-up response to a childish situation of name-calling and blame games. What a difference a new President makes.

"Drive all blames into one" also works on an individual level. Anytime we feel strong negative emotions, we instinctively want to blame David who caused us to feel that way and harp on David's behavior as the root of the problem. Instead, we could point the accusing finger inwards, and recognize that although David's behavior may not have been what we wanted from him, the actual reason we're so upset is because of our own ego hangups and our self-centered expectations. "Drive all blames into one" suggests that we look honestly at our own emotional reactivity and take responsibility for that before we start telling David what a jerk he is.

Obviously, if David is beating us up or stealing our money or something, then we're not being asked to blame ourselves for his actions -- if that's the case, then we really do need to get the hell away from David. But more often than not, the Davids of the world simply behave in ways that push our buttons. "Drive all blames into one" means that we recognize our buttons and how they're being pushed rather than automatically baring our claws and lashing out at the hand that's pushing them.


Stephen said...

Another excellent post, Dennis. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I still prefer "Drive All Blames Into One: Mario." ;-)

(Private joke)