Few concepts get more confused and mangled than those of “blame” and “responsibility.” 

Which is a bummer, because they’re very different, conceptually and practically. 

“Blame” isn’t a concept that I’ve ever gotten much mileage out of. When you’re in a mess, the question of “who got us into this mess” is often a more or less academic one. 

For the most part, I don’t CARE who got me into a mess if I’m in a mess. 

I’m more interested in how I’m going to get OUT of that mess. 

“Blame” almost never helps me with that question. For that matter, I dare say “blame” almost never helps anyone out of any mess they’re in. 

Most often, I see “blame” tossed around as a way of making someone feel better— or worse— about the mess that they’re in. But it’s almost never a useful tool of actually getting OUT of a mess. 

Only the concept of “responsibility” can do that. 

In fact, it’s hard to get OUT of a mess without engaging the concept of “responsibility.” 

What’ the difference between the two concepts? 

I don’t need to know, or care, who is to blame for a mess that I am intent on getting out of. 

But if I want out of that mess, I have to accept responsibility for getting out of it. 

It doesn’t mater, at that moment, who is to blame; and often, trying to assign blame is a distraction from accepting responsibility for getting out of a mess. 

It’s as if, if we’re not to blame for getting into a mess, we don’t have to assume responsibility for getting out of it. 

Not true. 

If you want something to change, you have to accept responsibility for the outcome you want…and to let go, at least for a little bit, of placing blame. 

There’s simply no other way. 

It may not be our fault that we’re addicted. Maybe tobacco companies and poor role models and peers and traumatic childhoods contributed to our addiction. There are surely many culprits to blame for having developed an addiction. 

But the only way out of addiction is to accept responsibility for ending it. 

It’s certainly not your fault if you were abused. When we are victimized, it is always and only the fault of the person behaving aggressively toward us. Nobody asks to be abused. The blame for abuse goes squarely on the perpetrator. 

But the only way out of living a life in response to trauma is to accept responsibility for living a different kind of life. 

It may not be our fault that we’re depressed. Brain chemistry, genetics, and circumstances may well have ganged up on us to produce the emotional and behavioral patterns that we call “depression.” 

But the only way out of depression is to accept responsibility for feeling and behaving in new ways. 

There are absolutely cases where we are definitively not to blame for the circumstances we found ourselves in. It is absolutely the case that we can, and do, get dealt crappy hands in life. 

It happens, and it’s not our fault. 

But blaming doesn’t change it. 

Only accepting responsibility for changing it opens the door to something new and different. 

“Responsibility” literally means “able to respond.” If we stay stuck in blame, rather than accepting responsibility, we are robbing ourselves of the opportunity to respond to a situation. 

It’s as if we’re waiting for someone else to bail us out. 

I don’t know about you, but I’m through waiting on anyone else to bail me out. 

I refuse to get caught up in blame. It’s a waste of time and energy— and I don’t have time or energy to spare. 

Neither do you. 


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