in Musings

Whose Fault Is It?

You’re 6 years old, playing with the class teddy bear. Your friend, who is also 6, comes up to you and asks to play with you. You don’t want to share your toy, so you say no. He grabs Teddy and begins tugging. You do the same. As the laws of physics would have it, Teddy rips.

The teacher comes running in and yells, “Whose fault is this?” and you and your friend both point at each other. Both of you concoct stories of the event, and the teacher spends an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out whose story is more true.

Whose fault is it? It’s a classic question parents and teachers ask children whenever something bad happens.

What purpose does this question serve – and could it even be a hazardous thing to say to a child? Seemingly, it trains children to find faults in anywhere but themselves, assigning blame to others and external factors. As these kids grow up, they continue along this path, blaming others for their own shortcomings. Personal responsibility is shunned.

Asking whose fault something is is almost like unnecessarily dwelling in the past. In the example above, it makes no difference who actually broke the class teddy bear. Both parties were probably responsible to a degree. It’s much more effective to consider the options going forward. What can you do to prevent this from happening in the future? What lessons can be taken away from the incident? Why did the mistake occur?

Thinking along these lines can save you a lot of energy trying to frivolously figure out who was right or wrong or good or bad. You also begin to stop looking for the victim in every situation, instead assigning everyone some degree of responsibility.

Taking personal responsibility for things gone awry, owning up to your mistakes, and being vulnerable are rare traits in people, precisely why those that exhibit these traits actually garner respect.

Just imagine these scenarios. If the CEO of your company took responsibility for the company’s problems instead of blaming others, wouldn’t you like him more? If your doctor told you she had screwed up a procedure, instead of trying to cover it up, wouldn’t you appreciate her honesty? If a politician revealed that their policy proposals had failed, wouldn’t you be more likely to trust him?

Objectively examining our own mistakes isn’t easy. Because we see the world from our own perspective, even our mistakes make sense from our perspective. When we screw up, it’s because of XYZ reasons. When others screw up, it’s because they’re stupid.

Instead of looking for faults and trying to blame the government, society, or your parents, look within yourself. Try to take the outside view. Embrace your failings. It’s much better to accept you’re bigoted and try to improve than sleepwalk through life ignorant to the fact. Failure to take responsibility for your own life almost guarantees your staganation in life.