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Archive for February, 2011

The Blame Game

“Blame is a way to discharge pain and discomfort.” Brené Brown (PhD, LMSW) author of The Gifts of Imperfection: Letting Go of Who We Think We Should Be and Embracing Who We Are, from her TED talk on the power of vulnerability.

I discovered Brené Brown on Facebook. Yep, Facebook. One of the fascinating (and possibly frightening) aspects of Facebook is that often your “friends” are folks you don’t know, but you’ve “friended” because they were friends of friends. Sometimes it works out well, sometimes not so much.

Anyway, this guy I’ve never met posted the link to Brené’s TED talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html). In case you don’t know about TED, it began as a small non-profit in 1984, dedicated to “Ideas Worth Spreading.” They held a yearly conference that brought people together from three walks, Technology, Entertainment, and Design. It was a forum for cutting edge ideas. Since then, TED’s scope has broadened and there are now two yearly conferences—one in Palm Springs and one in Long Beach, as well as a global summer conference held in Oxford UK. In a growing trend, aspects of the informational ground-breaking lectures are showing up in general conversation.

As the Love Month, February urges me to write about my favorite subject: Love. I never know from whence the muse shall come—sometimes she hails from far left field, sometimes she emerges from behind the barn. This time she comes from what, at first glimpse, may seem like Not Love.

The national discourse since the shootings in Arizona has reached epochal levels of polarization. You can’t swing a conversational cat without hitting a raw nerve somewhere. There hasn’t been room for an actual discussion—a give and take of ideas—in which to process the events of that Saturday morning massacre in a grocery store parking lot.

Within in moments, the fingers started pointing; was it the media, was it the politicians, was it the health care system failing to care for mental illness, or was it nature/nurture. I suggest to you, at this point, that perhaps it doesn’t matter. You can take the facts and spin them only so many ways, so many times before wringing all the impact from them. I think the constant, 24/7 rehashing is, at least in part, why we become inured to the violence and inhumanity that takes place in the lives of millions of people in our world every day. That’s why it takes an assassination attempt on a national political figure in which a federal judge and a nine year old child become “collateral damage” to get our attention—it’s news and it’s big—a story full of impact.

In the media feeding frenzy immediately following the event, the human stories got trampled in the race to win the Blame Game. Political pundits stripped the carcasses to feed their agendas, extracting pieces of personal information to validate their positions while the cameras rolled, capturing every possible justification for blaming someone else. All in the name of justice, freedom, and honoring those brought down by the bullets.

Perhaps sifting through the facts is useful for developing theories. We engage in that exercise, albeit often futilely, as a means of protecting ourselves from future occurrences; we feel that if we know how/why it happened, we can prevent a recurrence. Sometimes that’s accurate. Other times, the facts seem contradictory and elusive, refusing to order themselves into a neat, rational package. When that happens, a willingness to let go of insisting that they line up like good little soldiers can open the door to a more useful perspective.

If, indeed, blame is a way to discharge pain and discomfort, we’re apparently a nation of hurtin’ people. And, if we’re honest, we know this to be true. It seems like things everywhere have been spinning out of control for the last few years; the institutions and conventions that once offered a backdrop of security for our lives have either completely unraveled or they’re getting dangerously threadbare. We’re told we’re running out of resources, we can’t get a job—there aren’t any jobs, health problems that once were the exception have invaded the general population and who’s going to pay for THAT; we’re homeless, hungry, and sick in epidemic numbers. No wonder we’re yelling at each other—we’re weary and nobody knows what it’s like to be us.

Except we do, because we’re ALL us. We’re all in this together, so stop the yelling. Obviously we don’t have any control over whether the other guy chooses words or images that inflame, provoke, aggravate, goad, incite, or irritate, whether intentional or not. Our responsibility is to control our own reactions and not dump gas on the flame.

If we really want to honor the lives lost and those injured in the shootings, let’s take this opportunity to change how we speak to each other—our personal and national conversations. Let’s take responsibility for choosing the words and images we use to communicate. I was struck by two celebrity comments. During the panel’s discussion about Tucson on The View, Whoopi Goldberg didn’t point any fingers, she simply said, “when I was growing up, people talking and whipping things up caused people to get lynched.” No spin, just a fact.

Jon Stewart of The Daily Show didn’t point any fingers, he just observed, “it would be really nice if the ramblings of crazy people didn’t in any way resemble how we actually talk to each other on TV. Let’s at least make troubled individuals easier to spot.”

Who knows whether we can stop random violence or planned terrorism or war and other conditions that spawn them. I believe we can; I think that’s the point of love your enemy and love your neighbor.

Today I advocate for across-the-board love. Yes, the act was heinous, yet if we’re really interested in changing things we have to move beyond giving lip service to love into acting with love and compassion. Even when we don’t want to; especially when we don’t want to. We have to stop hurling vitriolic threats and insults that are, in their own way, violence. We have to find a different way of treating our personal pain and discomfort. I don’t get to make me feel better at your expense. It’s no longer acceptable to spew with complete disregard for hurting another human being, even if we deem that human as being deserving of hate or contempt; we don’t get to make that call. Intrinsic to justice is compassion and humanity, whether we’re dealing with a mentally deranged shooter, a Senator on the other side of the aisle, your spouse or kid, or the person in the mirror.