Do You Blame When Things Go Wrong?

easy to blame the dog

Imagine that you are driving home from work the last day before your big vacation. All you have been able to think about for the last week is your ten-day Mediterranean cruise to all those places you have long wanted to visit. You can hardly wait to get home and do your final preparations before leaving tomorrow morning.

As you’re zipping down the street, the light at the next intersection changes from green to yellow and you slow to a stop and patiently wait as the traffic passes in front of you. After a few minutes the light turns green and you drive into the intersection, unaware of the car that has run the red light. At the last second you hit the accelerator to get out of the way, but it is too late. The car clips the backend of your car, spinning you around and into the path of another car, which hits the front end of your car.

The good news is you survived. However, your car is “totaled” and you’re in terrible pain and can’t move. You have a severely fractured leg, broken hip and concussion.  It looks like you’re going to spend the next several days in thehospital.

Who’s at Fault?

 What would be your immediate reaction? For most people it would be something like, “I can’t believe this is happening to me. That %*#$! driver! He wasn’t watching where he was going. He ran a red light. This is his fault. I calling my lawyer. I’m going to sue this guy for everything he’s worth.”

So often when things go wrong, we have a tendency to focus on questions like-who’s to blame? Who’s right and who’s wrong? Or who caused the event?

These are normal questions and we do need to hold others accountable for their actions. However, I also want to suggest that this is not the meaning of responsibility. Responsibility doesn’t care about who is right or who is wrong or who’s to blame. Here is the key question:

Who is banged up in the middle of the intersection? (You) So who is responsible? You. You’re not responsible because you’re at fault or because you did something wrong. You are responsible because you’re the only person who can decide how you’ll react.


Let’s turn the word around. We begin to take responsibility for ourselves when we understand that responsibility begins with our “ability-to-respond.” Events happen, mostly good and some very bad. And you and I get to choose our thoughts or the meaning we give these events.

Who can decide how to think and feel about lying in pain in the middle of an intersection? Who can decide what it means? Who can decide what to do given this new reality? It is on you. This is the meaning of responsibility.

Two “come-froms”

Let’s assume it is a few days later. You’re in the hospital. You know you’ll be okay long term but you’re going to be laid up here for a few weeks and on crutches for a number of months. How do you talk to yourself if you fail to take responsibility?

It might sound like, “I can’t believe it. I’m missing all this work and have some big projects so don’t know what I’ll do. I can’t be out of work that long. Not to mention that I had planned a race this fall. I can’t run. I won’t be able to go skiing and am missing our cruise. This accident has ruined the next six months of my life.”

Or let’s assume that you take responsibility. How you talk to yourself will be very different. “I’m not happy about this but it is what is, so I’m committed to making the best of it. It’s an opportunity to slow down and get some rest. Maybe I can have some good talks with family and friends who come for a visit. I won’t be 100% at work but I can still be working on some projects on my laptop and it’s a chance for my staff to step up and show what they can do. I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to do the 10K I had planned but maybe I can volunteer at an aid station. We’ll have to postpone our vacation, but that’s okay. It’ll give me something to look forward to next spring.”

The same circumstance but two very different ways of thinking.

Victim or Victor

So take a look at this diagram.

You can either experience yourself as victor or victim. If victim, you disown responsibility for yourself which leads to disempowerment and dissatisfaction. If victor, you focus on your choice-making, what you own, and this leads to a sense of empowerment, satisfaction and mastery.

We don’t normally think of this as a decision. But it is, in fact, one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make in your life.

Have you had an experience in which you were face to face with this decision? What did you choose? What were the consequences.

And, by the way, I’m just completing a new course entitled Managing Stress and Building Resilience Masterclass and Certification. It’s for anyone interested in strengthening their ability to deal with anxiety and overcome trauma and chronic stress. I’ll give you more details soon.


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