Despite my best efforts, my 18 year old son has acquired the human condition of feeling blamed when held accountable for his actions. Of course! That’s because he’s right – but only partially. In this post, I look at why we feel like everything’s our fault and how to be at peace when others blame us.
I love to tell the story of when my son Jared was 7 years old and I was teaching him how to hit a baseball. I pitched. He swung and missed. Three more times, I pitched and he missed. Finally he hollered, “Dad! You’re pitching the ball too high!” Too high, I thought. Silly kid. Doesn’t he see that he’s swinging the bat too low?
In that moment, a plank instantly came out of my eye. I saw a timeless truth about blame and who is at fault. We were both right! Two truths exist in the same moment in time. Once you get this, the way you respond when someone blames you, changes entirely.
I had a similar experience with a client recently. I coach three executives, one hour at a time in a row. The man in the second hour kept getting squeezed as the first one ran a bit late and the third one wanted to start on time. Furthermore, once I was ready for him, he would still take five minutes or more to arrive. When he hinted at his dissatisfaction, I took it as a coaching moment.
“Who do you think should solve this?” I asked.
“Well,” he hesitated, searching for the right words. “I think it should be you. You run the schedule so you should end on time. When you don’t, I start something new and then I need to finish it, which then delays me further.”
I replied, “I can see why you would think that. After all, I’m the service provider. It’s certainly understandable that you would think I should both end the previous session on time and let you know I’m ready.”
“Exactly,” he said, smiling at my summation.
“In this moment,” I said, “is the exact opportunity that we’ve been discussing on how you can be a more effective leader.”
“Oh, what’s that?”
“You also have the ability to help our meeting start on time, even if it’s true that I should be the one to do so. Can you see how?”
He thought about it. “I suppose. I could come to the meeting room at the start time. That might get you to end the first session.”
“Perfect!” I exclaimed. “That’s exactly it. You see, there are always two truths in a given moment. I’m at fault and so are you. I could end the first meeting on time and you could also help me end it by knocking on the door on time.” I then connected it to Jesus’ First Rule of Inner Peace. “The only reason a person doesn’t typically see their own opportunity to get others to do what they want is because of the plank in their eye.” He laughed and we agreed that we’d both do our part the next week.
The main problem in human relationships is that we don’t see our own role. We only see the other person. We are spiritually blinded by the plank in our eye, as Jesus wisely pointed out in Matthew 7:5. We defend ourselves when blamed and we blame others without taking our share of the responsibility. Therefore we fail to see clearly how to remove the speck from the other person’s eye, that is, how to help them correct bad habits and annoying faults.
If we want to enjoy inner peace as well as resolve issues with others, we need to accept this truth. We do this by accepting our own role first. We accept some of the blame. When we do, the other person sometimes amazes us by voluntarily taking some of the blame in response. If they don’t, we still find they are more willing to discuss the possibility, just as my client did.
The key to being successful in these moments is to first get neutral about being blamed. When you are at peace that some of everything is always partially your fault, you won’t get defensive. You will stay centered,calm and present. Then you will know in your soul what you need to say or do. This is a spiritual gift and helps us feel God’s presence right when we need him most.