The blame game. We all play it from time to time. It’s part of our built-in bias toward portraying ourselves in a better light. When we mess up, we believe that other people or our circumstances are to blame. When other people mess up…well, isn’t it obvious? Their character is to blame.
If we’re particularly pious and humble, we might acknowledge that our own behavior may have played some part. But just an eensy-weensy part… compared to the mountain of responsibility that the other person carries. If people knew the whole truth of the matter, we like to think, they certainly wouldn’t blame me for this mess!
Now imagine two people in conflict with each other, each playing the game from their own side, each sure that the other carries the larger burden of blame, trying to get them to acknowledge it, and getting increasingly frustrated when they don’t.
As I suggested in the previous post, that’s the merry-go-round we ride. If we want to get off, it will take a concrete expression of love.
Why love? Because when we feel hurt, and justified in pointing the finger of blame, we’re in self-protective mode. We’re not interested in the other person’s welfare, and they know it. With their own defenses on high alert, they’re not interested in our welfare either.
To break that negative cycle, someone has to reach out. Someone has to care.
And it all starts with a bit of empathy and compassion.
We’re all human beings. We’ve all experienced brokenness and pain. We’ve all been hurt by others.
That truth can either close us off to others or else provide common ground.
When other people upset us, we need to remember: they may be pushing our buttons, but in most cases, they didn’t create them. We already had buttons to push.
It may feel like it’s all about the other person’s meanness, or spitefulness, or cluelessness. But in our calmer moments, we may be able to realize that this is an exaggeration. Except in those rare cases of pure victimization, it’s not all about them; it’s partly about us, about what we bring to the relationship.
What, then, can we do?
Let me be clear that what I’m suggesting needs to be done in our calmer and more reflective moments — and that we need therefore to carve out the time and space for quiet prayer and contemplation. It will be nearly impossible to change what we think, say, and do in the heat of conflict if we haven’t already cultivated newness when we’re not in conflict.
In other words, this isn’t about learning techniques to solve problems — it’s about cultivating character, about taking what Paul teaches about love and making it real. We’ll explore that further in part 2 of this post.