By Varun Maheshwari//Davidson College ‘23/@varun926
Blame. It’s such an interesting concept. Honestly, it’s more of a knee jerk reaction for an uncomfortable situation, easy to say “It was him, I didn’t do it.” In today’s political climate, blame is such an easy thing to do and almost everyone ‘blames’ another group for some misfortune or qualm. But since our childhoods, we’ve been taught by our parents and teachers that we need to own up to our mistakes and stop blaming others for the bad things that happen to us. Given the polarization of this country’s politics, it’s almost impossible to expect anyone to ‘own up’ to their mistakes and political discussion both at a microscopic level and at the macro level (ex. our ex-president). Don’t get me wrong, I’ve blamed plenty of people in my life. I blame the Patriots for ruining five chances for the Ravens to make the Super Bowl and I blame my parents for never letting me get a dog. I’ve also blamed people (during political discussions) on topics such as affirmative action affecting me, as an Asian-American, hurt me during the college admission process or voters defending a president who allowed white supremacists to invade our nation’s capital. However, as ‘freeing’ as blame might feel, it’s useless. There are several more constructive ways to demonstrate how someone is in the wrong, and even if being harsh is your goal, there are superior ways to make them feel extremely small too without using simple blaming tactics. Simply saying, “it's your fault,” is both a soft and unconstructive argument because it separates, not unites, and makes the other person tune out almost immediately.
My mother, growing up, would always tell me, “The best way to get someone to admit they’re wrong is for them to arrive at that conclusion themselves.” For example, if I wanted to prove to my ping-pong opponent I’m better than them, trash talk will not convince him, the final score of 11-1 will. An article in Harvard’s Business Review titled The Feedback Fallacy where they define feedback as, “ telling people what we think of their performance and how they should do it better.” Essentially when we talk politics, we’re giving “feedback” to the other person on how their views can improve to better suit our perspectives. This article mentions how when addressing feedback, “Focusing people on their shortcomings or gaps doesn’t enable learning. It impairs it.” Focusing on one’s shortcomings and dishing out blame are synonymous terms for me when engaged in political discussions.
The worst part is, this isn’t our fault per se because those allegedly more knowledgeable and those who we trust to run our country engage in blame and unconstructive feedback daily. Blame is so engrained in our society that it seems like it’s impossible to escape it; it seems as if one is expected to dish out blame or else you’re ‘not taking a side.’ A perfect example is our previous president, Donald J. Trump Jr., who was the king of blaming others. As his time in office demonstrated, that type of rapport only separates people and establishes rifts between individuals because it is inherent human nature to get defensive when someone tells you your faults. This tweet below is a great example of how our previous leadership did NOT set an example of how to avert blame and work together to solve issues.
As much as Donald Trump loved to play the blame game, Republicans were not the only ones to engage in this tactic of addressing politics. Many liberals, I’ve seen, also blame many people in a very general way that pierce the feelings of those around them. The most common generalization I hear liberals say is that “All white people are racist.” I know and acknowledge there are many intricacies when discussing systemic racism and surrounding CRT, but my point is that if someone just blatantly told me, “you’re racist,” without knowing me as a person, I would be obviously upset. I would then continue to inherently judge that person and tune out every other argument they have resulting in a zero-sum game where neither side is ready to listen. That statement does not help in aiding white people understand inherent racism because it tells them, it doesn’t show them. It angers many white people (especially Republicans) who feel attacked because they know they are not racist but they’re being told they’re racist by some ‘ultra-liberal’… therefore, what happens? They start to dislike and blame Democrats for making such assumptions and the rift begins to grow.
I think that this nation on both a micro level and a national level would benefit immensely from avoiding blame and engaging in more constructive tactics of SHOWING the other party why they are incorrect instead of telling them. Psychologically, we as humans are programmed to be prideful and when that is threatened, we engage in blaming others as a defensive mechanism (explained more in this article). The moment we feel inadequate, we attempt to deceive the source of this feeling by telling ourselves the blame should be on someone else in order to preserve our own self esteem. So much of what is wrong with politics, cancel culture, and debates in 2021 is essentially people worried about preserving their self-esteem and they end up not sympathizing with the person they’re blaming, entering a vicious circle in which truces and agreements are scarce. I believe that our political climate is so toxic in which it seems almost blasphemous for one to agree with another side or even acknowledge it, without first blaming them for everything contrary to their beliefs (before the conversation even develops). Unison and agreement are the stepping stones for progress and unless we drastically change how we engage in day to day discussions and arguments, we will not only stall political progress but risk the chance of moving backwards, creating a larger divide in our country’s citizens and groups.