Blaming and scapegoating

The final mistaken assumption or mis-blink we can easily fall into in a time of change is called 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 fair or just 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 it should have turned out differently from the way it did) or an assumption (that it was 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 which makes scapegoating a great way for us to escape taking responsibility for our own feelings and our own lack of action and to dump all that on to someone else instead.

Many broadcasters and politicians love to blame because it’s emotionally engaging and therefore great for ratings. But it doesn’t improve the situation. And in fact it stops us looking for solutions.

So what can we do instead?

The first step is to learn to manage our own emotions: to centre and ground and make clear sense of what has happened.

Then we can get clear on the only three things that really matter: what we want to happen instead of what did happen, how we will move forward now, and what we are going to do differently next time, individually and collectively.

When we approach situations in this way we have another way to use change to become stronger, antifragile.

When was the last time you heard 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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(And remember: you don’t learn to swim by reading about swimming, you also need to practice.)

Photo By Charles Nadeau via

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