When a situation turns out differently from how we expected and we blame a person for something they had only partial control over then 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. But it is inappropriate and it doesn’t make the situation any better.
This complex mis-blink often contains a mixture of the others:
- A 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 feelings for truth (imagining that because we feel upset it must be their fault)
- Dependency (for the actions that we didn’t take, which could have led to a different outcome).
All of which makes scapegoating a great way for us to escape taking our own responsibility and dump our emotions onto someone else.
That might make us feel better but it doesn’t improve the situation.
Better, instead, to learn to manage our emotions and make clear sense of what has happened. (We can use the tools of Chapter 1 to centre and ground ourselves and the people around us. Then we can use the tools of Chapter 2 to make clearer sense of what is real, what is imagined, and how to learn from what has happened.)
Then we can identity the only two things that really matter: what we will do now to move forward and what we will do differently (individually and collectively) the next time something like this happens.
How often do you hear people asking “Who is to blame?” — either in the media or in your own life? How often does this approach lead to useful change and improved results? Would it be useful to learn a different approach?
Adapted from Inner Leadership: tools for building inspiration in times of change.
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