Driving home today from seeing the girl I mentor in the Communities in Schools program (just an hour a week, really--you should do it, too), I was having a (hands free) conversation with my son that ended in some sort of defensive statement about fault, at which point I said, "Let's just talk when I get home in a few minutes." I knew the conversation wasn't going anywhere productive and was unlikely to via cell phone, so I took a break. I reminded myself that I really didn't want to spend the rest of this incredibly beautiful and unseasonably sunny November afternoon arguing with my son. I breathed. I made an attempt to plan how I could say things when I arrived home.
The continued conversation was embedded with teen angst, defensiveness on both our parts, and discussion about fault. "Was it my fault this happened?" "Oh, yeah, well was it my fault that happened?" Which brings me to today's differentiation: fault versus responsibility.
In my experience, many people put a lot of stock into whose fault things are, when in reality, it rarely matters that much to the solution. I mean, take, for instance, the current economic situation. Some people place blame squarely on the shoulders of the current administration. Others are certain its origins are actually back in the '90's. But in terms of moving forward, does it really matter? We are where we are, and we need to do things differently, so let's talk about how to do that. What our leaders decide to do may depend on what things were responsible for our current situation, but the blame game only serves to make someone feel righteous at another's expense.
And so it is in our relationships. Blaming others rarely gets us what we want--unless it's revenge or a way to keep from taking responsibility for something. The emotional riff that occurs is often as big as a fault line shifting in the earth. If I can blame you, and convince myself that it's all your fault, then what can I do to change things? Nada. However, if I look at what the facts are about the situation, determine what I don't like about it, and see where I can take responsibility to change things, then I can move forward. I may even need to ask you to take responsibility for your part and not rescue you out of consequences, which can be unpleasant, but it's different from blaming.
I managed to discuss that piece with my son, and things are much less heated now. I see ways we can keep from getting here in the future, and I know that the most important thing is that we can keep talking to each other, which is unlikely if we're blaming.
On this Thanksgiving Eve, I challenge you to take responsibility for being grateful in your life. Count your blessings. Savor them. Share them. And enjoy your turkey.