Like water, it is natural for us to seek out the path of least resistance. The world is in turmoil around us. Possibly every person in the world has been affected by the upheaval caused by the global pandemic. Economies are crashing, communities are crumbling, faith is faltering, and nature seems to be rejecting our species outright in the form of storms, fires, floods, and earthquakes. Beyond that, we are rejecting each other. International borders are closing. We are afraid of each other. Peaceful protests seek justice, while violent mobs destroy justice.
In the face of all of this, 2020 is an election year in the United States. American politics have been divisive as long as there have been American politics, but this year seems especially troubling. As I have pondered my options, as a voter, appalled at the dearth, I have come to a disappointing, but heartening realization. It is natural for us to seek out the path of least resistance, and when the world is in turmoil, the path of least resistance is to place blame. Candidates blame each other, other countries, the inefficiencies of the system. Citizens blame their elected leaders. We blame our circumstances, our bad luck, our parents, neighbors, co-workers, the moron in front of us in traffic, anyone or anything.
There is an irony in placing blame: doing so does not change our circumstances, but it often does change our attitude for the worse. When we place blame, even when that blame is rightly placed, we give up our power to act. When I say “it’s his fault”, my subtext is “I am powerless to change my situation.” It is odd, indeed, that we are so quick to place blame and make ourselves weak.
The converse of this realization is as encouraging as our inclination to place blame is depressing. Taking responsibility augments our power and ability. More powerfully, perhaps, is that taking responsibility is not an admission of guilt or wrong-doing. Though I have not spilled a bowl of cereal in years, since becoming a parent I have cleaned enough soggy cereal off of counters, floors, walls (ceilings?) to fill a small swimming pool. By taking responsibility, I am able to make our home a better, less sticky place.
This is certainly a thorny issue, and I don’t intend to suggest that the ends of the law should not be met, or that justice should not be served. However, in cases like a global pandemic or natural disasters, there is not always a clear person, group, or even nation, on which blame can appropriately be placed. And even if there were, the act of placing blame does not change the situation. But taking responsibility, regardless of who if anyone is to blame, makes you powerful. True leaders take responsibility instead of giving away their power by placing blame.