It’s easy to blame others for all that’s wrong in the world. It’s much harder to take responsibility, to see where we’ve played a part in creating or perpetuating the situation that we dislike.

And yet it’s only when we position ourselves inside the problem that we have any hope of finding a solution.

I’ll explain.

There is a particular dynamic that has been on the rise for a number of years now. It underlies Brexit, the Capitol riot, resistance to the jab, the freedom convoy in Ottawa, and many more instances besides. It has also shown up in much environmental messaging.

  • Identify problem
  • Identify culprit(s)
  • Attempt to force culprit(s) to stop creating problem through activism, legislation, or other forms of coercion

And how’s that working out for us?

I would suggest… not so well. There may be times when it is right and appropriate to take this approach, but when there are significant numbers on both sides of the debate, we need a different way.

While a problem is something “out there” and the culprit is “other”, we don’t get to the root of why the problem arose in the first place. Any attempt to end the problem comes from a place of blindness and judgement rather understanding and empathy.

How can you solve a problem that you don’t understand? And how can you understand a problem from the outside? You have to get inside. You have to understand where your supposed opponents are coming from. What are they seeing that you’re not seeing? Why does their position make sense to them? How is the system reinforcing their attitudes?

Yet what we largely see is quite the opposite – crackdown, suppression, and cancelling – which only exacerbates frustration, opposition, and disenfranchisement. Positions become entrenched and polarised.

Attempts to “solve” the problem through command and control are doomed to fail. They might suppress the symptoms for a while, but ultimately lead to a futile game of whack-a-mole.

What would it be like to shift from blaming specific groups or individuals, to looking at the paradigm that created the situation? If a mother is driven to stealing food to feed her family, is that her fault, or the fault of the social security system that failed to provide them with the means of sustenance? If people are susceptible to incitement and rioting, what made them volatile? If people are suspicious of authority, what can authority do to regain their trust?

Systems generate results, and narratives produce consequences. When systems are dysfunctional, allowing narratives to diverge, a society can only paper over the cracks for so long before it implodes.

Just to be clear, I’m not blaming the people who blame. Obviously that would be entirely self-contradictory and counter-productive. We all do it. It’s a natural response. Even the wonderful and wise Brené Brown confesses to being a blamer in this fantastic 3-min video from London’s RSA.

Rather than blaming, wouldn’t it be more effective to find common ground? We need to move from an attitude of domination to one of partnership. Adam Kahane and Reos Partners have worked in the most challenging situations in the world, from post-apartheid South Africa to post-civil war Guatemala, using their methodology of Transformative Scenario Planning: bring together warring factions around a table to work together to define potential future outcomes.

Chances are, when the factions shift from blaming each other for the current situation to focusing on the future they want to create, they will broadly agree that they want peace and prosperity. Understanding grows, divisions soften, alliances form. From there, they’re in a much better position to design a bridge from present to future – a bridge that everybody will want to cross.

We can start this right here, right now. I’m doing my best to pay attention to where I’m blaming others, rather than taking responsibility for my role in creating this reality. I’m asking where I perpetuate systems that produce results I don’t want. I’m challenging myself to check whether my actions are in alignment with the future I want to create.

By blaming others, we ultimately disempower ourselves, and drive peaceful resolution ever further way. This is on all of us to heal division, starting in our own closest relationships and building outwards from here.


Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

One Comment

  • Well said. There is so much distrust right now that creating pathways for meaningful, system shifting dialogue is incredibly difficult. Add competition for recovery resources post Covid, political rivalries, power struggles, resistance to owning systemic racism, and…the list goes on. Perhaps we make change one conversation at a time, building upon each other, to shift systems. I will definitely follow up on Adam Kahane’s work for inspiration.

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