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Herb Opalek: Don’t play the blamegame

To blame is to hold someone or something responsible for something gone wrong. Whereas chess, checkers, Monopoly and Nintendo were the most popular forms of "game playing;" today, it is the "blame game" that seems to have endeared itself in American society.

In our most recent news cycle, both presidential candidates have been blaming the other for the spiraling U.S. economy.

In another example, the former CEOs of American International Group Inc. told a House committee that accounting rules figured prominently in the crisis that led to the federal government's $85 billion bailout last month.

They stated that "mark to market" accounting rules -- which require companies to value securities at current prices in distressed situations -- forced financial institutions to book billions of dollars in losses for securities that were not in default.

Thus, they were blameless for the debacle that befell AIG.

Yet, immediately after they were bailed out there was mucho bucks for an elaborate and expensive meeting for AIG executives.

I find it interesting that in idiomatic English, we don't throw blame; we cast blame. Those of us who are fishermen know that when we cast our rod and reel it is with the hope that the fish we want to catch will go after the bait.

The same is true with casting blame.

We know that politicians throw out a line of malarkey and hope that we, the voters, buy their sound bites "hook line and sinker." We, the average male and female, are so transparent in that we obviously tend to believe our own blame lines; as it excuses our own faults or inactions.

Anything and everything goes except our taking responsibility for our failures.

In my Rescue Mission career, I have taken note of the fact that the successful life transformation for one who is an addict can only take place when the one addicted stops blaming others and owns up to his or her own faults.

One such addicted person stated that "addicts in recovery know that they are accountable for the decisions they make in all areas of their lives, including the decision to stay clean today, or to blame life, another person, some event, anything, and use that as a reason to use. Bottom line, recovering addicts learn that relapse is a decision, not an accident, not someone else's fault, not anything other than a personal choice."

Let's look at blame in another way.

Have you ever been in this type of situation? The red light on the dashboard tells you that the car's gas tank is empty and there isn't a gas station in sight.

Your first thoughts are immediately of your spouse: Why wasn't the tank filled up when he or she drove the car last night? He or she knew I was going to need it today. He or she should have filled it up. Why do they always drive it until it's empty? How could he or she do this to me?

The reality is that you needed to find a gas station. By blaming your spouse, you make yourself feel hurt and feel that your spouse doesn't care enough about you to make sure the gas tank is full.

But, that's simply just a belief you've added. In reality, it doesn't mean that at all. The truth could have been as simple that your spouse hadn't even noticed how little gas was left.

After all, you, also, had not noticed.

It's your interpretation of a particular situation and the blaming of others which causes you the grief and suffering.

It also gets in the way of handling the situation. Your thinking is more caught up in blame and dealing with the pain of your thoughts and what it all means rather than simply and quickly doing what you need to do -- in this case find a gas station.

We must realize that blaming others is a sign of low self-esteem because in doing so we are not taking responsibility.

If you do not take responsibility you will always be a victim of your own circumstances.

My advice, clipped years ago from an unremembered source, is: If you made a mistake, admit it. If there is something in your life you are not happy about, do something to change it.

When you find yourself blaming, stop and say to yourself: It is time to take responsibility. Be open to other's people opinion and if you did something wrong apologize.

Remember that you are not always right.

The old joke goes, "The three requirements of life are: food, shelter and someone to blame it on."

Even heroes of the Bible were not immune from the "blame game."

Despite God's own words to Moses that he would not enter the promised land because of his failure to affirm his faith in God, by striking the rock, Moses chose to blame those around him for his misfortune.

How could this great hero, this honored and revered one, chosen by God to have a sacred relationship still be so flawed? He could not (or chose not to) see that he alone was responsible for his being denied the chance to enter the land God had given to the people of Israel.

Like Moses, Americans shun personal responsibility.

The evidence is pervasive. People blame their misbehavior on society, poverty, the schools, the churches, the police, the government, their genes, alcohol, drugs and refined sugar, on anyone or anything but themselves.

Somehow, collective authority reduces or eliminates personal responsibility. Think of a drunk driving home from a bar. He does not believe that he will do $500,000 damage between the bar and his house. Besides, it is not his problem. The state pressured him into getting a driver's license and buying insurance. It must be the state's problem.

Strange as it may seem, in a way, he is correct. In America, the game of life is the blame game and it plays under much different rules than those most people imagine.

We all strive for perfection but it is a peak impossible for a human to conquer.

In a blog on the Huffington Post, Kristin Finkbeiner wrote: "Let's get over it already. The blame game. The oneupmanship. It's all a red herring. Let's give each other the benefit of the doubt."

I couldn't agree more.

Herbert A. Opalek is CEO of the Merced Rescue Mission. He writes a column every other Saturday.