Leadership & Self-Deception, Part 3: Blame

“Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans and myself from the community of sinners.”
— Miroslav Volf

In one of my prior jobs, I served as an adjunct professor for an extended period of time. I became quite comfortable in the position and with my colleagues, and I had only positive feelings about my work there. One summer, my office had been moved, and I needed more storage space. There was an empty room near my office, so I took it upon myself to store some of my boxes without asking the permission of the division’s office manager. I reasoned, “Easier to get forgiveness than permission.” The manager said nothing about the matter. But all of a sudden, it seemed to me that he had grown cold towards me. He seemed to quit speaking to me. He reluctantly provided me with information and assistance. I sensed that he was angry with me, and I honestly didn’t know why.

After 4 months, he came to me and said, “Todd, you must move the boxes this week.”  Once the boxes were moved, he seemed fine and things returned to normal. But I already had created a scenario for four months in my head that he was against me, that he was mounting a campaign against me among other colleagues, and that he was mistreating me. It turns out that he needed the boxes moved, but he wasn’t even thinking about it until the time he made the request. I had misread every action and signal of his for four months and turned him into an object against me rather than seeing him as a person who wanted the best for me and our department.

Why did I create this scenario in my head? Because I had betrayed my own self when I didn’t respect him enough as a colleague and human being to ask his permission to use the space. Instead, I decided that my needs were more important than the division’s policies or his authority to direct me. When I did this, I could not bear my own self-betrayal. So instead, I made the manager “the bad guy.”  It was shame that led me to blame.

Shame and self-betrayal is how we get in the box. Blame is the behavior that emanates from the box. My broken humanity can’t stand to deal with the fact that I may be the problem, so instead I will concoct real or imaginary scenarios in which you are the problem.Thus begins the blame game.

We have failed ourselves over and over again, so we constantly need someone to blame for our own failures. Our thoughts and feelings work to justify ourselves. This tendency is so human that often we don’t even know we are doing it. Our default position is that something or someone else is causing our issue, or our conflict, or our problem. So I step in the box where I am a victim of you, other interest groups or political parties, religious groups, or my boss. Facts, context and reality no longer matter. I will do everything in my power to blame you, an institution, or an interest group for my shame.

When this happens, we begin to lose all sense of reality. People appear against us. Institutions seem to ignore us or discriminate against us. Lovers or spouses are insensitive to our feelings. Other people in my department are lazy or incompetent. Leaders of another political party other than my own are always out to serve themselves. When we betray ourselves, we enter the box, and then we inflate others’ faults, and deflate our own. We inflate those things that justify our self-betrayal and eliminate our shame.

If the office manager had come to me a few days after I placed the boxes in the room to request that I move them, I would have said “yes” and then blamed him under my breath. Perhaps I would have even uttered my justification. “Can’t you see that I am hard working, that people like me, and that I am underpaid? Surely you can provide a room for my things.” And having justified myself once, I will continually use the same justification when I betray myself again. This creates a permanent box that I carry around with me.

And if we perceive that people change towards us as a result of our box that we carry, they probably do. Because our box is forced them into a box too. Even If I am pleasant despite my real feelings, they can sense my being even if my doing is contrary to how I feel. And so begins the process of mutual mistreatment.

More on that tomorrow …


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