It's Not My Fault

11:30 AM

There's a difference between taking the blame and taking responsibility.

Taking the blame usually stems from offenses only you perceive. These include but are not limited to events like refusing to ask one of the pubescent butlers at your best friend's birthday party for a drink and thus going the entire night thirsty because you don't want them to think you're imposing to ask them to do their job...also performing the worst improv at the same birthday party. Let me just pause for a minute and tell the end of that story: I went home in tears and red hot embarrassment. I couldn't fall asleep. I replayed the moments of my humiliation over and over again. The lesson learned? Never send your children to birthday parties.

Actually, the lesson learned is the point of this post: the difference between taking the blame and taking responsibility.

If you're sensitive, empathetic, kind, caring, affectionate, social, or any combination of the above, you probably know what I'm talking about. I bet the very telling of my story brings back horrifying memories of your failures...with that accompanying yuck feeling that persists far longer than your rationality.

You know, kind of, that it's no sin to mess up an improv game. Well, not exactly a sin sin, but certainly a social sin that offends everyone's sensibilities and loses your hard-acquired friends. If you still have friends. Did I ever have friends? 

Of course you don't have friends. How could you have friends? "Friends" implies that there are good, clever, important things about you. After bumbling an improv game, you certainly aren't good, clever, or important about anything at all.

This train of thought rarely derails until days and days and days and months and years later. Sometimes it takes a fresh path...a well-trodden fresh path, where you contemplate whether it's worse to be told you're not good, clever, or important or to have people smile at you like they can't see the I AM THE WORST tattoo burned into your forehead.

Sometimes people do say it. "Shut up." "Shh." "You are being way too loud." Confession: I get shushed and shut up all the time. I always have. The funny thing is, I was a silent child in public until junior year of high school. I just got shut up because when I did venture into the brave new world of conversation, I said the wrong things at the wrong time. For instance, saying "I don't like fish...except for maybe fish sticks" goes over really well when the conversation you interrupted was about real live pet fish. That's when I got told to shut up for the first time. I crept into a corner somewhere and reeled (mostly because "shut up" was a bad word in my household). Come to think of it, if I'd been really clever and confident, I could have passed off my remark as a witty play on words. Except that I wasn't clever and confident. I was tiny and pathetic and didn't try to pretend otherwise.

Anyway, sometimes people aren't the nicest. They respond inappropriately to your humor (or lack thereof). They act out of stress instead of kindness. Some people are also awkward and bad at talking but don't realize it. I'm sorry, but why can't the girl in the third floor of the library just say cheerily, "Hey, guys, can you keep it down? Thanks!"? No? No. Instead it's the hissing, "You guys are being way too loud and you need to be quiet." I wasted fifteen minutes crying over that one. I wasn't eleven this time. I was nineteen. Apparently she's a great prayer warrior on campus. I only know her as The Girl in the Library Who Can't Say Awkward Things Nicely.

Public Service Announcement: I can make myself feel bad. I can guilt myself. Please. You don't need to do it for me. You don't need to hiss at me to make me stop giggling in the library. You don't need to show me graphic photos of head trauma to convince me to not drive drunk. Maybe you shouldn't even tell me about the broccoli in my teeth. I don't know.

I'm one of those people who take the blame. When someone gets mad at me, I assume it's my fault. When someone snaps at me, I assume it's my fault. When someone misunderstands me, I assume it's my fault.

Another PSA: It's not my fault. 

It's been beautiful to say that -- freeing, truthful, just downright awesome. It's not my fault. One of my current favorite phrases to say is "I refuse to take the blame for that.

This phrase only works when it truly is not my fault, and it always works for when I do something stupid but don't actually sin against anybody. Laughing in the library is not a sin. I don't need to feel shame for it. Talking about fish sticks is not a sin. I don't need to be guilty about it. Saying hi and getting snapped at because she's stressed is not a sin. I refuse to take the blame for that.

It sounds terrifying, doesn't it? Terrifying and breathtaking. It sounds harsh. It sounds mean. It sounds arrogant. All things that a kind, sensitive, caring, etc. person never wants to be. How will anything ever get resolved if I don't take the blame? How will I atone for my social sin if I don't take the blame? How will this person ever learn to like me if I don't take the blame?

Instead of taking the blame, you take the responsibility. If you're involved in something, you are responsible for something -- maybe not for taking the blame, but for making things right, changing your behavior, seeking a new way to love.

Just now, I missed my places cue for the musical because I was writing this post. I ran upstairs, grabbed my prop, and was there right in the nick of time. I should have been paying attention. In this case, it was my fault. I accept the blame for that one...but I also accept the responsibility. Instead of freaking out and crying and performing like an accused man facing the guillotine, I shook it off and resolved to pay attention to my cues for next time. I'm sensitive, remember? I can make myself feel horrible...or I can channel that sensitivity into taking responsibility so I don't make the same mistake twice.

I almost missed my other cue. Now I do acknowledge that I have a problem.

Taking responsibility means thinking of the broader consequences of my actions, not just assuaging a guilty conscience. Going back to the musical again -- a quick costume change kept bombing because I needed to grab a dress and it was never in the place I requested it be. Sometimes the director would stop and yell why that particular scene kept falling apart. Sometimes he blamed me. I didn't deny or acquiesce to that. I didn't feel the need to vindicate myself -- that wasn't the point. I didn't feel the need to rat out the person who kept setting the dress wrongly. That wasn't the point either. The quick change just bombed, and we would all try harder next time.

Taking responsibility means that the center of attention is on the problem, not my reputation. It's okay if people don't always understand my motives or actions perfectly (unless, of course, it actually harms the relationship). If people think I'm an idiot just because I'm being me, it's okay. I refuse to take the blame for that. If I'm not good at quick changes or improv or remembering to keep my laughter in, so what?

The thing is, it's a fight to save your reputation. Give up. Some people will never get you, no matter how hard you change to please them. Especially in the past few years, I've been accused of all sorts of things. I've explained my position as clearly and calmly as possible. I've still been accused of the same things. Sometimes, I pray about it and talk about it and come to the conclusion that I'm wrong and need to change. Sometimes, I pray about it and talk about it and come to the conclusion that they just don't understand me. Their failure to understand me does not mean I need to get confused on my position. Their false accusations do not mean I need to feel guilt for those things I didn't do.

Not taking the blame means I have freedom to do good and love fully -- the freedom to evaluate myself without petrifying fear, the freedom to cut myself a break when I mess up but don't sin, the freedom to say, "It is my fault" when I do sin. It's the freedom to remain confident enough to reach out a hand and say, "Let's fix this, ok?" It's the freedom to say, "I'm not going to deal with this negativity in my life." It's the freedom to change and tweak behavior, thoughts, and words so I can love best.

You've only got so much emotional energy. Use it to take responsibility, not the blame. (And when you are to blame, for heaven's sake, apologize and move on. Being wrong isn't the end of the world.)

I made my final cue, by the way.

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5 impressions

  1. A lot of good thoughts! There is a pretty fine line between taking the blame, assuming guilt, and taking responsibility. It takes wisdom to know the difference, especially for sensitive souls like yourself. I, too, tend to feel bad if I perceive I've been blamed or judged--fairly or unfairly.

    What birthday party are you talking about? And who told you to "shut up"? Grrr...that IS a bad word in our household.

    On the flip side, I really dislike being in a position such as your librarian, in which I am required to shush people. I.E., Homeschool Play Practice Mom Duty. I really dislike shushing OTHER PEOPLE'S KIDS, but I really dislike disrespectful loudness when the situation requires quietness. I try to be polite, but struggle with the right way to say "be quiet" and MEAN IT! Maybe I should practice my mean mom look with gentle words. I surely wouldn't want to make anyone cry (don't think I have.)

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  2. I'm talking about Lindsey's princess birthday party -- I was around thirteen at the time. And the "shut up" was from a cast member in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."

    I must have inherited this sensitivity from you! Genetics. :) You've always handled rowdy children so well -- I don't think you need to worry about making anyone cry. ;)

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  3. Thank you so much for this. I always struggle with trying to vindicate myself and then thinking about all the "social sins" I committed which really are not that bad. I never really thought about the difference between taking blame and taking responsibility like this. I especially like what you said about how responsibility is when the focus is on your problem, not you. I cannot be blamed for what other people think.

    Sorry for the long, rambling comment. I basically wanted to say that I love this post. :)

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  4. I'm so glad I'm not the only one, Emily Ruth! It really has been a lifelong struggle for me. It helps to have friends who aren't as sensitive as I am. They let me cry on their shoulders and tell me to knock it off at the same time.

    Thank you so much for reading!

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  5. T-Thank you very !much for writing this... You don't know how much this means to me...! I'm often accused of being sensitive so this was a great learning experience...!

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