Blaming Might Be Funny, If It Wasn’t So Darned Destructive
Check out Brene’ Brown’s three minute video on blame and discover why I relate to it on such a personal level.
A few years back, my family decided to go out to eat at a Mexican restaurant we liked. Our kids had invited friends over so the group that piled into our van that late afternoon was bigger than the usual four in our family. We lived in Spokane, Washington, at the time and it was cold. No snow on the ground, but definitely chilly. When I learned of the restaurant plan I found a jacket, threw on some boots by the door, and headed to the van myself.
Restaurants in cold-weather places like Spokane often have an alcove or entrance vestibule leading to the actual front door, which serves as a buffer between the dining area and the biting cold outside. After pulling into the parking lot, our group quickly exited the van and headed to the outer vestibule door. About to exit the van myself, I noticed that I hadn’t yet tied my shoelaces. The boots I had jumped into actually had long laces that now formed a willy-nilly pattern on the floor mat under my feet. I thought about tying them, but then felt it would be cool and casual if I left them to drag out behind me, a symbol of my easy going, devil-may-care attitude.
I joined the others in the vestibule, although part of our group had already entered the second door and was now spilling into the dining area. I could see my wife, at the front of the group, talking with the hostess about the size of table we would need. The group, probably because of the cold vestibule and the warmth inside, continued to creep into the dining room as the staff put a couple of smaller tables together and get place settings arranged for us. I ended up almost straddling the second doorway, between the dining area and the vestibule, holding the door ajar as I stood there (worried those dining were swearing under their breath at me for holding the door open).
A Thousand Words Is Worth a Picture
I was relieved when the hostess motioned for our group to come to be seated. Those in line in front of me started to head toward the table and I scrunched into those directly in front of me, which allowed the vestibule door to close finally. Soon, I could head toward the table, too, and began the process that has come to be known as walking.
Walking can be a little bit shaky when you are 10 months old, but soon you get the hang of it and can walk in all kinds of situations without giving it even a second thought. By the time you are 45, for instance, which is how old I was when this happened, you are quite good at it. It is necessary, at this point in the story, though, to dissect this skill which is, for the most part, invisible to us.
“Not a good situation!” the alarms are yelling.
Seeing the person in front of me move toward the table, I started the walking process by leaning forward ever so slightly. Just milliseconds after beginning this leaning forward, in a coordinated effort that plays out hundreds of times every day by countless fellow human beings, my right foot begins to step forward, following the subtle momentum that my upper body has started. My brain quickly notes, though, that my right foot isn’t moving, in fact, cannot move. Not a panic situation yet as the upper body momentum has only just started. I am, to the casual observer (of which, I will note, there were many), a man beginning to walk to his table. My brain now sends a message back to the right foot to try harder, a stronger effort, possibly violent, being in order. The foot obeys, only to discover the same determined fixedness, the same stubborn immobility. I must point out that the upper body has continued its slight forward momentum, fully expecting the feet to follow. Panic has still not set in, but alarms are now going off in the brain. “Not a good situation!” the alarms are yelling. “Get feet moving!” A decidedly firm and urgent message is sent to the left foot to take a step forward and bring the body back into balance, physically, as well as emotionally, since the alarms have now awoken various chemicals throughout the body system to respond to a potential . . . well . . . disaster. Remarkably, mixed with a fair amount of terror, the left foot responds that it, too, is fixed to the floor. Again, firmer and even violent effort to free the left foot meets with the same non-moving result. We should recall here the inevitable influence of physics on everyday life, for while much attention has been given to my feet, my upper body, obedient to my original directive has continued to lean forward, it’s slight, almost invisible, speed at first now picking up greater momentum. Those dining begin to become aware of something out of the ordinary and shift their gaze from their food to this event taking place right there in front of them. The brain is actually quite pragmatic when push comes to shove or when feet are somehow nailed to the floor. The legs, torso, and head, a one-piece unit, straight as a board, respond to the invitation of gravity and fall with alarmingly increasing speed, the eyes scanning for a landing place. The brain shifts from the feet, which turned out to be a huge disappointment, and now focuses on the arms and hands. The feet could not prevent this event, but arms and hands can soften the blow. The effects of the impending face plant can by minimized.
It is interesting, and here is where I am right with Brene’, that before I hit the floor I muttered a name loudly enough for many in the dining area to hear me. With frustration and accusation in my voice I muttered the name, RACHEL. Then bam, I hit the floor. Some in the restaurant, my family included, heard the commotion, however had not seen the whole drama play out. Of course, turning in my direction now they saw nothing. How could they? I was flat on the floor.
You may be wondering, What happened? My brain, quickly recovering from the mortification process, asked the same thing. What the *&%$@ just happened? Still laying on the floor, I turned to examine my feet and immediately ascertained the problem. I can be a quick study, to be sure. Mr. Cool and Casual had been bitten by the bug of his earlier decision. My laces, untied, dragging out behind me in a statement against societal norms, had laid neatly across the metal threshold of the vestibule door, which when I let the door close behind me had firmly pinned my shoelaces in a death grip between door and threshold. I looked around as onlookers politely stifled laughter and had to chuckle at the vestibule door’s efficiency.
My family was less polite in terms of the laughter thing. In fact, they seemed oblivious to my feelings and quite frankly laughed a bit harder than necessary. They seemed to be laughing so hard that I thought that some of them might pee, which would serve them right as far as I was concerned. Let them experience their own form of mortification. Eventually, maybe a couple of hours later, everyone stopped laughing and we were able to eat and I was able to relate the unfortunate details that I have shared with you.
How is it possible that I could be so quick to blame?
The thing is, how could I, in less than a second, while my brain is furiously distracted, have blamed someone so quickly. Rachel, I should tell you, is my daughter. She was 17 when this happened and had developed an excellent sense of humor, so excellent, in fact, that I immediately, even before hitting the floor identified her as the culprit. Like so many times when we resort to a deadly habit, the problem is more about us than it is about the person we see as the problem. In this case, Rachel had absolutely nothing to do with my face plant in front of a dining room full of people. It was all about me, about my desire to be cool and casual, and about my standing in an ill-advised location with my laces dragging behind me.
We so often see our blaming as the result of a circumstance or person outside of us, yet stories like these remind us that blaming begins within us and is a spirit waiting to be judgmentally applied to others. It’s hard for some of us, but the habit of blaming is one we need to break. Most of the time it’s nobody’s fault but our own.
This was good.
Sorry Jim . . . I have to go with the rest of the family on this one. Couldn’t help but laugh out loud in my office while reading your story! But I have to agree that blame is almost as natural a reflex as trying to catch yourself when you fall. A hard habit to break.
Thank you for being so vulnerable! I love Brene’s books – they fit in with Choice Theory quite a bit. I started chuckling with the decision to not tie the laces 🙂