To be responsible is to be accountable. One of my clients said she chose to define responsibility as the "ability to respond" to help her break free from a pattern of feeling overly responsible for things outside her control. Responsibility is simply about action and consequence. Responsibility is already present, even when it is not acknowledged. If we can hold onto that concept, perhaps we can focus on our part in any scenario with positive intent.
Blame is about judgement; it assigns fault from a right / wrong paradigm. The blame game can become so convoluted that it resembles a three ring circus with clowns pointing giant fingers, lions whipped into submission, jugglers scrambling to be in control. If I blame you, I don't have look at myself or examine my feelings. I could even get righteous about it and find a release for my anger or frustration. And if I blame myself instead of you, I can tell myself I'm not good enough and indulge in self recrimination, much the way monks of old would self flagellate to show remorse for sin. Either way, I can reenact old familiar patterns of thought and behavior and not have to deal with real growth and change. Before you come to the conclusion that I am judging blame as worthless, it does serve a purpose. It really does a great job of helping us avoid looking at painful parts of ourselves, of maintaining the status quo. It is one of the most powerful conversations for no change, and as we know, change can be scary.
Sometimes things go wrong. Objects break, people make mistakes, accidents happen. How do we handle these events? Do we look first to how to improve the situation? Or do we look for someone to blame or direct our anger towards? If blame is our first response, are we just mirroring what we've been taught, or are we coming from a place of doubting our self worth and avoiding our own deeper emotions? Either way, consciously bringing compassion into the picture is one way to sidestep old patterns of blame. Compassion is about empathy and mercy; it is the practice of loving kindness not just to others but also to ourselves. It means we mindfully choose to not beat up ourselves or anyone else, and it often requires letting go of ego and ego driven goals in order to recognize our connection with others and be more fully human.
So this brings us to the question of our intention. Do we really want to maintain the status quo or do we want something better? Without blame, whatever happened can become a source of useful information. Whether it was an accident or a mistake, it can become an opportunity to learn something, to improve the way things are and to promote positive growth and change in ourselves and our relationships.
“A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.” ~John Burroughs