Blaming and scapegoating

The final mistaken assumption or mis-blink that we can easily fall into during this time of change is blaming or scapegoating.

When a situation turns out differently from the way we wanted and we blame someone for something they only had partial control over we are mixing up the person, the event, and our feelings about the event: we are ‘scapegoating’ the individual.

Human beings have used scapegoating as a way to get rid of unpleasant feelings for thousands of years. It might make us feel better but it is not appropriate, it’s not fair, and it doesn’t improve the situation.

This complex mis-blink often contains a mix of all the others:

  • value judgment (of the person)
  • An attachment (to the outcome that didn’t happen)
  • Extreme thinking (that the failure to get the outcome we wanted is somehow “the end of the world”)
  • An expectation (that things should have turned out differently from the way they did) or an assumption (that they were going to)
  • Mistaking our feelings for truth (imagining that because we feel upset it, “They made us feel like this” and “It must be their fault”), 
    and finally
  • Dependency (for the actions that we didn’t take, which could also have led to a different outcome)

All of this makes scapegoating someone a great way for us to escape taking responsibility for our own feelings and for our own lack of action. And many politicians and broadcasters just love to play the blame game because it’s emotionally exciting and boosts their ratings. But it doesn’t improve the situation. In fact it stops us looking for ways to improve the situation.

There are two steps we can take instead. The first is to calm down and manage our own emotions: to centre and ground and make clear sense of what has happened. And the second is to get clear on the only three things that really matter: what we wanted to happen instead of what did, how we will move forward now, and what we are going to do differently next time, individually and collectively.

Approaching situations in this way brings us yet another way to use change to become stronger, antifragile.

When did you last hear someone ask, “Who is to blame?” Would it be useful to shift that question to become “What can we do differently next time to create the results we want?”?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: a framework and tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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Photo By Charles Nadeau via

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