The Blame Game

While attending the International Bullying Prevention Association (IBPA) conference in Nashville this year, there was a fascinating session on blame. The presenting researchers, Dr. Isaac Karikari and Dr. James R. Brown had conducted a study on school climate in which they interviewed bus drivers, administrators, parents, and social workers about the perceived prevalence and responses to bullying. In the series of interviews, there was at least one person from each party that blamed another for their inadequate response. Does this sound familiar?

This session sparked my interest to dig deeper into the dark web of blame, which has many layers:

Blaming serves to:

  • Simplify the problem and/or perceived solution
  • Divert attention away from more complex or serious underlying issues/pain.
  • Avoid culpability and associated feelings (shame/embarrassment)
  • Preserve our self-esteem or self-image

Effects of Blame:

  • Difficulty learning from mistakes
  • Increased feelings of guilt and lower self-esteem
  • Lower achievement levels
  • Are liked less by peers
  • Blaming is contagious

I’ve created this quick survey to self-reflect on our tendencies to blame. I invite you to take the survey and then try using it with your classroom or group to start a discussion about personal responsibility.

Once having completed the survey, ask yourself/your class:

  1. Think about a time that someone blamed you for something, when it was really their responsibility. How did that feel?
  2. Think about a time when you blamed someone else for your mistake. How do you feel about that now?
  3. Think about a time when you have taken responsibility for your mistake. How did that feel before and after taking responsibility?
  4. Next time you feel like blaming someone, what could you do instead?
  5. If I take more personal responsibility and blame others less, I think it will make me feel ____________.

Barack Obama quote:

“Don’t make excuses.  Take responsibility not just for your successes; take responsibility where you fall short as well.

Now, the truth is, no matter how hard you work, you’re not going to ace every class. But you’re not going to ace every class.  You’re not going to succeed the first time you try something.  There are going to be times when you screw up.  There will be times where you hurt people you love.  There will be times where you make a mistake and you stray from the values that you hold most deeply.

And when that happens, it’s the easiest thing in the world to start looking around for somebody else to blame.  Your professor was too hard; your boss was a jerk; the coaches — was playing favorites; your friend just didn’t understand.

No, but this is an easy habit to get into.  You see it every day in Washington — every day — folks calling each other names, making all sorts of accusations on television.  Everybody is always pointing a finger at somebody else.  You notice that?”

When we look at the root of blame, we often find feelings of shame, embarrassment, frustration, and even exclusion. What these researchers discovered in this particular study, was that key stakeholders felt marginalized and excluded from the discussions and trainings in regards to bullying prevention. They noticed that bus drivers and parents especially felt that they had little voice at the table, or were not even invited to the table for bullying prevention discussions. Based on this finding, Dr. Isaac Karikari and Dr. James R. Brown predict that strengthening engagement and inclusion with all stakeholders can prevent and reduce blame. They challenged us to think about how we are currently collaborating and communicating with these stakeholders at our current school sites to increase a sense of community.

Do you think exclusion or marginalization influences our human impulse to blame others when challenged? Please share in the comments below!

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