September 11, 2009

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Maybe we should just take the blame for our own faults

Cynthia DewesEarly on, we learn the advantage, not to mention the pleasure, of laying blame on others. It must be part of the human condition because kids are natural tattle-tales from the time they can lisp, “(S)he did it!” while pointing at a brother or sister. And the urge to blame continues throughout life.

Somehow it seems that if we can transfer guilt for something bad to another person, it makes the thing itself more acceptable, if not exactly resolved. It gives us a strange kind of satisfaction.

For example, when we first learned that our fifth child had a serious congenital heart problem, the urge to lay blame kicked in. Others in similar situations have told me they have done the same.

Although we never said it out loud, my husband and I both wondered whose “fault” it was. Luckily, good sense prevailed and we realized there was no fault to assign. It was just something that happened.

This kind of uncertainty about “Why this?” or “Why me?” is a big factor in laying blame. What has happened is not fair so we think there must be a culprit who is responsible for it. There just has to be! But finally, if we ignore that urge, we admit that life is not fair, so get over it.

Interestingly enough, the urge to blame can become institutionalized, as in the machinations of governmental bureaucracy. I’ve learned this through dealings with the U.S. Postal Service.

Once, we went to visit a son in another state so we asked the post office to forward our mail to his address. During the six weeks we were away, everything was fine. But when we returned, we received no mail at all, causing us to have overdue bills, expiring magazine subscriptions and endless trouble.

Somehow, the central post office had put us on a permanent change of address. To this day, our son receives some of our mail forwarded to his address, which has changed twice in the ensuing years. When informed of this error, our local post office sprang into action.

Now we have an official form for forwarding mail temporarily, another form for permanent forwarding and yet another for holding our mail locally until we return, all of which are sworn never to be disclosed to the central post office. Even the mail holding site is spelled out: leave on the front porch, leave with a specified neighbor or leave at the post office.

All eventualities are covered. There are time limits and rules. The forms are dated, signed by us and witnessed by the postal staff. They ensure that the postal service will never suffer blame again.

This is called protecting one’s rear, an important aspect of laying blame. The idea is that we must not be found guilty of anything, no matter what. So we take steps to prevent being caught in an error. Not to prevent committing the error, mind you, but just getting caught at it.

Blame laying may be self-serving, but it can also be malicious. Children will blame each other just to see the other guy squirm. Adults can blame others out of envy or some other unacceptable motive. In any case, it’s not nice.

Of course, God forgives us because he loves us unconditionally so all this blame laying is unnecessary. Maybe we should just try harder to take the blame for our own faults and sins. Maybe we should just take our lumps.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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