The blame game never leaves us. To a greater or lesser degree, we are guilty of passing the buck, and we learn the skill at a young age. It is a pastime that we flirt with as children to evade the consequences of innocent bad choices which eventually become an all-consuming counter reality as we reach adulthood.
We understand the essence of the blame game very early on: “if I can repudiate responsibility for my actions, because someone else did it or someone suggested it or because I wasn’t thinking, then I won’t be accountable for them.”
The real skill as a parent is to instill in the child that taking responsibility is important on so many levels, be it moral or ethical. But, children should be aware that there are those that don’t share the same moral compass and will happily direct blame onto someone else without a thought.
One day last summer as I returned home with the kids after a day full of activities, I left them to play unattended in the living room as I fixed a pot of tea that I so desperately needed to enjoy in peace with my husband, naively thinking that the kids would behave. Emerging from the balcony, I found clumps of hair laying on the ground and my son’s head looking like a gardener’s sheers had worked his magic on it.
Both kids had horrifying looks at how we might react to their latest faux pas. Their fear was justified as we reacted like typical Egyptian parents yelling and threatening. But after the shouting stopped we gathered that the incident involved a pair of safety scissors, a Barbie mirror, and playing hairdresser.
When we tried to question who was responsible for this my son quickly replied that it was his sister, while she hurriedly explained that he made her do it. Long story short, my son was bald for the rest of the summer and they were both grounded for one week. The fascinating thing for me at this stage was the fact that they discovered the blame game.
The blame game has various manifestations from children’s finger pointing to more extreme cases, let’s review some examples.
There is what I call the initiation level which is captured in the mischievous misbehaving of children, like mine. If parents take the bait and let their children off the hook then kids get the message loud and clear; if I blame someone else I won’t face the consequences.
This will lead to the next stage. At the banal level we blame our busy lives, for example for not checking on a sick relative, promising him and ourselves that we will come to visit as soon as we can manage to do so. Of course the visit probably never happens, is infinitely delayed till it slips into the abyss of forgetfulness.
On the transactional level we believe that it was wrong not to visit our sick relative, not to volunteer more, not to have done more charity, so we take a more active role.
During Ramadan, we call and visit relatives, give more to the poor and volunteer for charity work. We hope that these good deeds will absolve us from our previous reluctance to act.
Then, at the victimhood level we cease to try to erase our wrongdoings because we were coerced by other people or by conditions that compelled us to take this particular path, or it wasn’t our fault anyway.
If you fail your academic exams, it wasn’t because you didn’t study hard enough, but because the professor didn’t like you. If your marriage falls apart, it is because your in-laws intervened, and not because you never had genuine communication with your spouse. The victimhood level paves the way to a more dangerous level, for self-pity leads to resentment which is basically a breeding ground for dangerous impulses.
It is said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The children’s blame game can either lead to understanding that actions have consequences, or it can lead to avoiding taking responsibility, with the resulting insecurities that develop into adulthood.