The two couples were sitting having dinner on the patio behind one of their homes. They have known each other and been friends for decades. Conversation turned to the COVID vaccine somehow, and suddenly one of the women got very, very strong in her statements against the vaccine. She began arguing with the other woman there, not just disagreeing, but she stood up and began to scream, “You are the problem!”
The husband of the woman being attacked, sought to intervene. He encouraged their friend, “Sarah*, I think this conversation would go better if you spoke rather than yelled.” (*name changed)
Sarah turned from fighting his wife to fighting him. She began to viciously yell at him, instead. The situation escalated even further. Finally, the couple being yelled at decided it was best to leave. They’ve lost this friendship.
A stewardship chair at a local congregation is blamed by the administrative council leaders for the low giving after the pledge drive. He is told to step down. He does.
In another congregation, conflict is sparked as a pastor is blamed for the resignation of the beloved church secretary.
Another clergy person is blamed for people leaving the church, while the larger story of the pandemic, the restrictions, and the denominational and governmental mandates is ignored.
A friend’s partner was at a guy’s weekend and two guys began to unload on one another over politics. The argument grew enflamed as each stood and blamed the other yelling “It’s people like you who are ruining America!” Finally, one of them flew from the room in a rage.
My friend’s partner, Mike*, spoke to the man left behind. “Did you notice,” he asked gently, “you never listened to this other brother?” (*name changed)
Coming out of his daze, the man who had been arguing, shook his head as if returning to his body, coming back to himself, looked around and sat down. He looked up at Mike, listening now.
“It helps, you know,” continued Mike, “if you start by listening, by seeking to understand the speaker.” Mike had his attention. Listening had never occurred to him. They spoke about options, alternatives and how Mike might help the two guys make amends.
What is this? What has people so angry, that civil debate or conversation is rendered impossible? Could it be having viewpoints censored and free speech stifled is bearing this fruit? Often shares of good YouTube videos which talk about alternative viewpoints to the common narrative are accompanied with the comment, “This will be taken down by FaceBook soon. Watch now.” How has this FaceBook and Google policy, to search and delete videos which do not align with what they have decided is the true narrative, impacted our ability to have relationships?
Could it be the the venting which happens in online posts, now has leaked into our regular relationships?
Perhaps, because people do not feel heard online and offline, they tend to repeat their story, louder. In our cancel culture, people have lost jobs, had subscriptions cancelled, books removed from shelves and in some instances burned, and been blacklisted because they have dared to question the common narrative being told. This produces rage often expressed in blame.
Blame is a dynamic and pervasive issue. Whole organizations have been plagued by blame. If not checked, blame becomes pandemic. It spreads faster than a virus, infecting one person after another. Indeed, if someone refuses to join in the blame culture, they get labeled, and blamed as well. In one organization, blame has caused individuals to build walls between one another. People blacklist those with whom they disagree. They refuse to talk to those on the “other side,” faces are literally turned away even when they pass in the halls. This effectively keeps them in the dark as to whether opinions have shifted or not.
Blame feels powerful and a person can feel “right” in their stance. Somehow puffed up in their knowledge, they can lord it over another, without questioning their own motives or actions. Blame is often accompanied by scapegoating, deciding if we just get rid of this or that person, then, everything will be improved. This is never the case, of course. For in a blame culture, the issues are systemic.
Blame is not the answer.
Blame is the discharging of pain and discomfort, wrote Brené Brown. Watch this great short. There are so many people feeling pain and discomfort.
Instead of blaming, we need to be accountable to our own pain and discomfort, and be willing to talk about it. This takes vulnerability on our part. It takes honestly facing the story we have been telling ourselves about our positions.
That’s the thing about having a position, we also have written a story about our position. Like any good story we have a plot line, a hero, a villain and an outcome. This internal story supports our behavior, our yelling, our anger for it is necessary for us to help others accept our version of reality and the only way they are going to listen is if we are yelling.
The problem is our story is not the whole story. Those opposing us, they have another part of the story. As wrong as they are(!), they too have a story, and hold part of the truth of the whole situation. When immersed in our stories, we find this impossible to believe.
Something powerful happens when people actually listen to one another’s story and then begin to converse across the narratives. Common ground and common humanity are found. Suddenly both sides find they are passionate about a shared value.
In the room with one couple working to reconcile their relationship this common value led me to ask them if they might envision a new way to tell the story of their future relationship. “What if you collaborated on a new way to view the future which is different than either of the previous narratives you have held?” A light bulb went on with this question. The husband was shocked as he said, “So, I could change my ultimatums from hoops the son needs to jump through into a plan we establish together?” The wife spoke into this, “We could collaborate?” They began to share together, beginning in front of me, to write a new story.
It was beautiful to watch this happen. Blame left the room. May that be the case for the relationships you have in your life. May blame leave the room as accountability, honesty, vulnerability enter.