By Millicent Sykes
When you think about blame, what scenarios come to mind? Do you think about how your husband forgot to pick up milk from the grocery store? Do you think of how your girlfriend drank too much wine when she was out with the girls? Do you think about politicians who evade the questioning of their projected application of policies? Do you think about doctors who forget to remove surgical equipment from patients?
These are all situations where blame is playing a role. Some people direct blame to others, even when the situation was their fault. While others readily take the blame for mistakes which were not theirs. In larger arenas, politicians avoid blame like the Black Plague. (Which can be frustrating when seeking clarity.)
A blame avoidance behavior (BAB) is seen as “essential for a realistic understanding of politics and policymaking”, highlighting the necessity to promote this form of behavior. When thinking about progress, the act of blaming is needed and avoided. Mistakes are inherent aspects of growing and learning, however certain situations may premise blame avoidance behaviors.
“Blame can hamper (re-) election and career advancement, destroy a reputation or a legacy, and prevent officeholders from pursuing their policy goals.” (Hinterleitner & Sager, 2017, p. 3) Placing blame on another individual may influence the perspective of the person in question and the person directing the blame. In a highly spectated and monitored profession, politicians and their political agendas are constantly critiqued, objected, and strunetized. The amount of pressure, while unique to the profession, can be applied to other high-stake, high profile professionals. When does this characteristic (i.e., blame avoidance behavior) become problematic and unbeneficial to the objective goals?
I think back to the episode of Black Mirror where a person receives punishment for a crime committed. This character is blamed for an action taken while others criticize and label this person as a failure for the mistake. This sentiment is similar to the blame culture in politics. The hedonistic approach of avoiding pain and increasing pleasure is evident. “… be more concerned with avoiding blame than claiming credit (Nielsen and Baekgaard, 2015).” (Hinterleitner & Sager, 2017, p.9) From the “Anticipatory and Reactive Forms of Blame Avoidance article, I extrapolated the general rule of maintaining a positive reputation for the public. Rather than boasting about achievements and striving to obtain more, the politician’s goal is to refrain from exacerbating any negative aspects attributed to failure. I believe the importance of the person’s position, amount of people impacted, and the amount of effort to rectify a mistake are factors which influence the need for politicians to avoid blame. Political agendas impact counties, countries, and continents. A mistake made by a politician could result in a large portion of the population suffering. I understand the importance of avoiding mistakes in politics because these mistakes have lasting influences and effects. However, when a mistake does happen, the person has to publicly confront the blame, thus informing the public of how this mistake will be resolved.
What does this mean for individuals with low-stake tasks and projects? I think the concept of blame and mistakes will forever be inherent in our society. For progression and improvement, concepts, tasks, and ideas must be questioned, assessed, and evaluated. How are we to know how to improve a situation if we are unaware of what is happening?
This might sound cliche however I believe the first step is to reevaluate our own actions. Questions which elicit reflection include:
-Where did it happen?
-What led to the mistake?
-Exactly what did you say or do that led to the mistake?
-How did you feel at the time?
-What, if anything, did you learn?
-What, if anything, have you done to prevent its recurrence?
-Have you made this kind of mistake since?
-Is there a pattern?
No matter the person’s position, temperament, or background, each person should be able to answer the above questions in hopes of gleaning a better understanding of what happened. This moment for ponderance may develop a habit of assessing one’s actions. This habit may dampen the emotions associated with making a mistake, taking ownership of blame, and lessening the amount of mistakes made in the future. I do wonder how the culture of avoiding blame can be viewed positively and utilized in other arenas outside of politics. Lastly, when does a culture of blame and blame avoidant behaviors become detrimental to growth and development? A question often answered by the demonstration of failing businesses with hindering toxic cultures.