Moving Beyond Blaming and Complaining – Part I, The Darker Side and the Light at the End of the Tunnel

Supernova Merges(Fireworks), Gig Harbor, Washington

Supernova Merges (Fireworks), Gig Harbor, Washington, Taken by Barry Cosme, Copyright (c) 2017, All Rights Reserved


In his bestselling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey points out the importance of proactivity by naming it as the first such habit.  In some ways this boils down to accepting responsibility for one’s self and one’s surroundings to such a degree as to be willing to dig in and really work for change in both.  Clearly, this is effective, healthy and powerful… even heroic at times.  Yet, many people persist at behaviors of blaming and complaining, which are pointed in pretty much the opposite direction.  While we probably all do this to some degree, in today’s world some people seem to aspire to celebrity status as the champions of blaming and complaining.  Given the prominence of such behavior, it is well worth the time to examine it as an impediment to growth, learning and improvement, both on the personal scale as well as in society.

To achieve positive change it is obviously vital to examine one’s self honestly, to seek beyond self-deception for the truth.  With a little such examination, it is fairly clear that a big part of blaming and complaining is “pointing the finger” elsewhere to escape possible blame being laid upon oneself.  The seeming value of these behaviors is that they distract us and others while at the same time hiding the underlying purpose.  These are preemptory and reactive strikes attempting to shift potential negative attention elsewhere.  We see this in individuals as well as countries and their leaders.  We see these behaviors wherever people experience guilt and the perceived psychological need to escape fault and accountability.

By making others wrong, especially where this becomes a fairly chronic drama, on some level we try to excuse ourselves from responsibility.  The focus of this is primarily to establish our innocence in the eyes of others and to be convincing in such an act one needs to enter into the pretense oneself to a degree; we need to allow ourselves to be deceived by our own deception.  This submerges the truth somewhat, eventually to the point where, after years of such behavior and self-deception, we seem to fully buy into our charade and have a very hard time seeing reality, meaning that we no longer see our deceptions for what they are but instead see these lies as truth.  Similarly then, we will also fail to detect similar deception in others and also see such fiction as fact.  Such a level of self-deception hinders personal growth (learning and other self-improvement) to the point of bringing such forward movement to a standstill.  Beyond thwarting development, eventually it can even lead in the opposite direction to incompetence.  This becomes a death of sorts, it is the death of growth but also of understanding fact, truth and reality.

Given the dire consequences, why would anyone do this?  Let’s delve a little deeper into the personal darkness, the unconsciousness of our hidden motivations.  Clearly, blaming and complaining about others, requires separation, and further distances oneself, from others.  How does this distance/separation arise?  We tend to think that such negative behavior and feelings are the result of past treatment we have received.  We conclude that we are fearful or angry because we have been bullied or exploited.  Yet, if this were true we would find that the more wealthy, privileged and powerful a person is (in other words, the more they are able to avoid being bullied and exploited), the more they would be connected to others, the more they would be empathetic and compassionate.  Clearly there are advantages to living in a safe environment, receiving a good education and mixing with other advantaged people.  Yet, beyond such influences mentioned, it does not necessarily follow that greater wealth, privilege and power leads to connectedness, empathy and/or compassion; indeed in many cases wealth, etc. leads to such an opposite frame of mind that they may even exhibit bullying and exploitative behavior themselves.

So perhaps our concept of environmental causation is somewhat flawed.  Maybe there is another answer as to why we distance ourselves from others that has nothing to do with the treatment we have received.  What if we lead ourselves astray in ways that causes us to become less trustful (and more fearful)?  What if wanting to possess things, circumstances and experiences, in an exclusive way, leads us to the idea that others are in opposition to our goals?  What if our narrow self-concept (which has ceased to value inclusiveness, compassion and diversity) has left us so egotistical as to find ourselves objectionable.  What if it is our own thoughts (and thoughtlessness), our decisions (and refusals) and our actions (and inactions or reactions) are the sources of our self-doubt and our feelings of unworthiness, anger or fear?  Perhaps these various aspects of our small-ego-self are all parts of a self-concept that we have built through our own misguided thoughts and efforts.

With the theory of environmental causation, we are the effect of our surroundings.  While this view seems to have an advantage of escaping responsibility (believing we are just the cumulative effects of our environments) this also has an unfortunate side.  Since we are victims (at least from our point of view), there seems very little we can do about changing the effects upon us, because these effects are caused from outside and beyond ourselves.  On the other hand, while the theory of personal causation may require some daunting self-examination and acceptance of responsibility, it has the clear advantage that (since we are the result of our decisions and choices) we can always choose differently or decide to change.  Circling back to our initial discussion, this realization of the value of personal causation is a prerequisite to a true growth mindset and/or to proactivity.  If it was true, the theory of environmental causation would lead to dependence upon the environment for growth, whereas personal causation leads to a direct connection between growth and our own choices and efforts.  This facilitates growth and improvement.

While it is fairly easy to see the consequences of the individual understanding personal causation, it is even more dramatic to view the potential value of this on a more global scale.  If a large percentage of our population practiced an understanding of personal causation, our elected officials would need to do so as well to receive votes from such an electorate.  Our legal system would no longer need to deal with so many litigiousness people using it as a venue for blaming and complaining and it could be used to address more important issues.  Additionally, education could truly take root as more students adopt a growth mindset grounded in a firm understanding of their own ability to cause changes by their choices, decisions and industriousness.  While we have a long path to traverse, this is the Light of Truth that is so definitely worth our quest.