Dreaming an Alternative to Blame

Awaiting_SpringIt is a lovely, chilly day, one of those almost perfect late winter days filled with sun and cloud, a day when one can see a long way.

I’ve been having conversations with folks recently about responsibility and blame. Mostly these discussions happen around the painful moments in people’s lives. In our culture, the prevailing belief is we are always and totally responsible for what happens to us. Given that, I guess I should not be surprised when others tell me they know the problem lies with them, or when I find myself saying such things about my own experiences.

The opposing view, just as much a part of the culture although less often acknowledged, is that everything happens pretty much by chance, or conversely, is completely predetermined, and there is not much we can do to affect the trajectory of our lives. One expression of this view was the long-held belief that genes were fate. Of course, genes do play a crucial role in our lives, yet this role turns out to be much more fluid and plastic than first thought. Life experiences, lifestyles, and learning all contribute to how genes are expressed; we are not automatons!

It seem to me the problem is that both these views support the dominant culture’s reliance on blaming. In the dominant view we are each responsible for all that happens to us, good and bad. There is no grasp of the basic concepts of ecology, or any appreciation for the complexities of living as an individual or community. Somehow, magically, everyone can be rich and healthy if the just choose to be; this disregards the fact that we share the world with innumerable other beings, some of whom eat us, just as we consume others. It also ignores the sad reality that our consumptive culture is rendering the planet unlivable for most beings; imagine how much worse things might be if everyone could endlessly consume! (I am reminded of the epic story of Coyotes theft of death, and how s/he brought relief to all Earth’s beings; everyone had previously lived forever in much misery.)

I believe we are each responsible for making meaning from our experiences, for building a sense of self and relationship with others. There is an ancient shamanic idea that we build soul, and the relationships between souls that inhabit our bodies, through our responses to life’s events, that we become Selves though living; this is different from Jung’s much ballyhooed formulation of Individuation. The work of becoming Self incorporates all stages of life, including dying. It is said our task is to gather a basket of rich stories to share with the grandmothers and the Creator after we cross over to the spirit world. I like to imagine sitting by a fire within a circle of teepees, swapping stories with others. I love that in Beaver culture, there are those who are reborn and, as children, sit with their old friends and retell tales of their prior, shared, escapades!

So where does all this leave us? Somehow, in the midst of all the blaming and shaming, we must arrive at a reckoning with the complexity of life in an interconnected universe, the presence of  Fate, and the simple imperative that all beings must die, if only to give others the opportunity to try out life on our lovely, magical planet. This view requires us to simultaneous accept whatever responsibility we can for our condition, and to have compassion for ourselves, knowing things are way complex and not always under our control. In the end, we are then left with lives that are rich and meaningful, and with many good stories to share and to bring home to the spirit world.

7 thoughts on “Dreaming an Alternative to Blame

  1. Excellent article, Michael. I resonated with this line in particular, “I believe we are each responsible for making meaning from our experiences, for building a sense of self and relationship with others.” And like the idea you explored that this process of “becoming” is enhanced through our living and our responses to relationships with one another.

    I do think there can be an empowering aspect of taking personal responsibility for our decisions and our responses. Not to cast blame, but to avoid taking that victim approach. I think what you are saying here is that through recognition of our interdependence, we can find new ways to express, and something worthwhile is created in the process. It sounds like a middle road between “I alone cause my life” and “my circumstances cause my life”. It sounds more like a dialogue, or a relationship between self and world which is capable of transforming experience…


  2. In my opinion, there is also a lack of responsibility in the culture where Judeo-Christian philosophy dominates. God gets credit and blame for everything and is also expected to right it all eventually. That lets people off the hook for a lot. I totally agree with you that blaming/shaming/rejecting is ultimately useless. What we really need to practice is care/share/negotiate!

    1. Scillagrace, It is an odd thing. I believe that in Rabbinical Judaism and in early Christianity, there is an expectation that we will share/care/ and at least engage in conversation. Yet these values do so often get lost rather than embraced. The result is a culture/society that does great harm in the world. Yes, may we care/share/negotiate.

  3. I instinctively believe that our lives are about learning about and experiencing the world – things which we then take back to the source / Goddess when we die so that the source is constantly learning and experiencing with us, which then feeds back into the next generation who are born. I think we all have different ways of doing that and mine is through writing and art.

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