No Blame

As I sit on a bluff above Georgia strait, with the city of Vancouver in the distance, I am thinking about the concept of blame. There are so many reasons to blame another. So many things to blame as to the cause of our illnesses, failures and disappointments. And yet…

When I was diagnosed with cancer my oncology surgeon made it clear that I was not to blame. He strongly stated that I had done nothing to cause my cancer and could have done nothing to prevent it. Some would disagree, but I chose to believe him. Although that was ten years ago, I believe him still.

I have seen the extra suffering that blame causes. A couple of years ago a young woman with advanced cancer was interviewed in the Globe and Mail. When asked what surprised her the most she said, “how I was blamed for getting cancer.”

How did this terrible judgement come to pass?  I believe it is an unintended consequence of the notion that illness can be prevented with the proper lifestyle choices. We use the word “prevention” as though it guarantees outcomes, rather than using expressions such as “reduce your risk,” or “up your chances.”

Don’t get me wrong. I am all in favour of healthy lifestyle choices. Those choices make me feel better. Yet, I disagree that they prevent anything. Naturally they have a positive impact on our well-being and quality of everyday life and that is reason enough to pay attention to how we live. However, I have seen too many people suffer needlessly when their good choices did not prevent a serious illness.

But blame! We need less of it, although it seems to insert itself into so many corners of our lives. Take relationships. How often do we blame the other for our inconveniences, hurts and troubles? Daily life is fraught with opportunities to blame, especially on the home front.

Years ago I asked a good friend the secret of her marriage.  “We adopted a principle of ‘no blame,’ from the start,” she said. “We decided that life was filled with things that can go wrong. That each of us would make mistakes and hurt the other. Blame would only make it worse. So instead of blame we asked the question ‘what needs to be done to solve this problem or mend our hearts or fix the scraped side of the car.’ And we did it. It didn’t mean there was no discussion but there was no blame.”

Recently, I overheard my Grandson saying to his sister who was blaming him for something, “Remember Sophie, we are not a blaming family.” Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but I enjoyed the moment where “no blame” was even under consideration.

I have also heard, with illness, the body being blamed; our thoughts; our Mother; or a myriad of other culprits.  I understand our human tendency, yet, I wonder if all this blaming ever really helps? What is the point to find fault and blame, in the long run.  Life is short. It is what it is. Maybe we are better off to move along and put our energy into what we can do something about. Why not place that sack of blame on the recycling bin and reduce our suffering, as it becomes compost for growth.

In life, it is hard enough to manage and accept all the difficulties that come along with a serious illness. Let’s not add blame into the mix.

In relationships, no blame, does not mean no consequences. Nor does it mean no anger. And it certainly doesn’t mean condoning or liking. I see it more like a shift of attention where we shine the light on what happened, step back and solve the problem together. We provide space for each other to make mistakes. We allow for human frailty and tough conversations without slaying the other.

This is not an easy task but may be worth a try, while we have the chance.

Note: As I take in the cooler west coast evening air and watch a buck, a doe and a fawn, energetically and playfully frolicking in the yard. I sink contentedly into this magical moment. My thoughts, however, soon drift to Japan and are with my Japanese friends who are now sweltering under the threat of an enormous, devastating heatwave of historic proportions. May they too experience relief  soon – a cool breeze and a drop in temperature. Until next week, Trudy

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