Posted by: MC | November 14, 2011

Office of Blame Accountability

Love is encouragement.

Kindness is not weakness.

Freedom is scary because, if I am truly free, I can’t blame anyone. 

These three statements came as small gifts over coffee and tea this morning with my friend Jim.  You may recognize him from earlier blogs.  Sayings like these are as natural, even essential to Jim as heartbeats.

This morning we were talking about being people in relationships – love partnerships, friendships, kinships, acquaintanceships – you know, the social interactions that come with living as a human being in space and time.  Alongside things like weather and seasons and the 24-hour news cycle, our social relationships are the up close reminders that change is the nature of the game.

In the capricious and sometimes unsettling flow of change, it is easy to get stuck in assigning blame for the inevitable arising of discomfort, displeasure or rage.  While reactive blaming as an end in itself has little positive effect,  there’s a lot to be said for accountability – for acknowledgment and acceptance of responsibility linked with taking action both to redress wrongs and reconcile the relationships damaged by wrongdoing.

The persistent effects of the offenses of slavery, displacement and destruction of Native American tribes, the Holocaust, and Japanese-American internment are glaring examples of the necessity for accountability.  These wrongs have yet to be fully redressed and reconciled.  The way we know that is by looking at (at least) two things – the disproportionate representation of African and Native Americans in circumstances of poverty, under-education, and poorer health; and the consistency with which all four of these groups are cast into stereotypical categories by the talk and action of media, public leaders and too many everyday folk in schools, communities and businesses.

These are things to complain about.

Then there is the tendency people in our country have in general.  Really.  Check it out.  Next time you’re in a casual conversation see how long it takes for one of you to start complaining about something.  The weather, Congress, gas prices, the Christmas hype again hitting before Thanksgiving.  It’s easy.  There’s no shortage of offenses out there.  But is hurling blame ever enough?

The fact of the matter is the blame game can create its own eternal eddy in the otherwise spectral stream of human society and sustenance.  Blame is a diversion – a bad habit if allowed to stop with itself.   To address this tendency, LoudMouth Press (www.loudmouthpress.org), the publisher for 100 Voices – Americans Talk about Change, has an earlier publication entitled Office of Blame Accountability (OBA) (2010).    

One of the themes that shows up consistently across the 100 Voices is the importance of “taking my part in the change.”  The OBA tapped into that American impulse to move beyond assigning blame by installing  a public art project involving a desk, a red phone and the very plain accountability form pictured above.

The authors of the book are listed Geoffrey Cunningham, Carla Repice and The American Public.  Geoff and Carla developed the idea as artists to stimulate everyday Americans to get to know this tendency of ours to use blame as a way for distancing ourselves from one another and to avoid taking the accountability that is rightfully ours.  Their goal was threefold – to use art as a means for inspiring “accountability, compassion and freedom from the cycle of blame.”

In various public spaces, they would set up a desk with the red phone, an antique typewriter, lots of pencils and the OBA forms.  Some people would pick up the red phone prepared to complain, only to find no one on the other line.  They then picked up pencils and wrote.  The filled-in forms are replicated in the book.  Here are a few examples. “I BLAME: God. FOR: Making Minnesota so cold in winter.  MY ROLE:  I can’t move away.”  “I BLAME:  Corporations.  FOR: Commercializing every aspect of my life.  MY ROLE:  Buying from corporations.”  “I BLAME:  My bosses.  FOR:  My gray hair.  MY ROLE:  Being an enabler.”  “I BLAME:  Drugs.  FOR:  Lack of Seratonin in my brain.  MY ROLE:  Drug user.”

In one of the few narratives interspersed through the book, the authors quote psychologist David Lacocoque’s reflections on the tendency to blame.  Lacocoque differentiates destructive and constructive blame.  Destructive blame is what creates the eddy I mentioned above, or as Lacocoque describes it, “Inertia, self-reproach, hatred and violence, self-satisfaction, and denial are common outcomes when the process ends with the assignment of blame.”  By contrast, “constructive blame is a situation in which blame is a step along the way to a certain kind of further reflection and action,” which ought to be – which, for example, must be the effect of the blame associated with historical and persisting bias systems.

As Lacocoque sees it, “stopping with blame is not a moral or a responsible choice.”  Instead, he says, “I say ‘thank you’ to blame.  It is this tendency that gives us the opportunity to act responsibly.”

There it is again.  We can listen to the blame and take it as an invitation instead of automatically blaming it back and thus solidifying the barrier.  And looping back to Jim, we can add in a measure of kindness, encouragement…even love.  I know, this can all sound goopy and starry eyed – until you really listen and take it on.  In actuality, this is the demanding work of peace warriors.

As our time over tea and coffee came to a close Jim offered his best memory of a quote from Elie Wiesel.  “This is the way I remember it,” Jim said, his smile easy and wide, his eyes incandescent behind their lenses.  “When I’m not blaming the world for my problems, I’m returned to the garden.  There I am free to live my life with its prizes and with its consequences.”

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Responses

  1. What an important and timely post! You’ve helped me recognize that I’ve gotten myself into an eddy. I can get out!


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