Last week Shauna and I sat through a delightful set of parent/teacher interviews at our kids’ school. Yes, delightful.
In the middle of the fifteen minute slot focused on our daughter, we shared some concerns—not about the teachers, but how our daughter was struggling with a few ongoing issues. We weren’t casting blame, just describing a situation. And then, the most incredible thing happened.
“Mmmmm,” one teacher replied, nodding. “I have to own part of that.” She hadn’t realized how some of her actions, well intentioned as they might have been, were affecting our daughter. The conversation gave her fresh insight she felt implicated her in some way—but instead of getting defensive, she stepped up and took responsibility. Later on as we slid back into the car Shauna and I marvelled at her wisdom and humility. I can’t think of another time when a teacher has done that. Think of how many times parent teacher interviews revolve around parents pushing teachers to take responsibility for their actions, or vice versa. Before long, the blame game takes over.
Here’s an important principle: When people don’t accept responsibility for what is rightfully theirs, the blame game is nearly inevitable. Our sense of justice “requires” it. But the opposite is also true: It’s really difficult to cast blame at someone who’s already accepted responsibility. Want to win the blame game? Accept responsibility and step up.
What gets confusing is when responsibility for a thing is shared.
Shauna and I walked out of that parent/teacher interview with a list of outstanding assignments Glory has due this Monday or later this week. The weekend was ridiculously busy, so guess what? We forgot about the list until this morning. I remembered about five minutes before Glory was supposed to get on her bus. She spent the next twenty minutes doing some of the work, and then I had to drive her to school. Who’s to blame for this fiasco? Glory, or us?
Some might say, “Clearly, you are. You got the list of assignments. It was your job to remind your daughter and make sure she got them done on time.”
Others might say, “No, it’s up to your daughter. What is she in, Grade 7? She’s old enough to look at her agenda and take responsibility for her own work.”
Both are true.
I am not responsible to do Glory’s work, but I’m responsible to guide her toward doing it. This means I can’t blame her for not reminding me to remind her, and she can’t blame me for forgetting, because she was supposed to do her work.
Let me put it a different way: In church, I tell our worship teams it’s their job to lead the church in worship—to bring their heart, skill, and prayers to bear on their musicianship in such a way that people are invited to join them. That’s their responsibility.
The congregation can’t blame the worship team for not leading them into worship, because it’s the congregation’s responsibility to worship no matter what happens onstage. The team can’t worship for them.
When it comes to preaching, it’s my responsibility to prepare a Spirit-anointed sermon and deliver it to the best of my ability while depending on God to do the heavy lifting. It’s your job to open your heart and accept what God is saying.
A few principles emerge from these examples:
1. No one is ever responsible for exactly the same thing as someone else, even when they share different pieces of the same pie. If we ever set up a scenario where more than one person is responsible for exactly the same thing, we’re setting them up for frustration and failure.
2. I am only responsible for my own attitudes, words, and actions.
3. Accepting responsibility snuffs out many conflicts before they have a chance to ignite by removing the need for casting blame.
4. The purpose of the blame game is to force someone else to shoulder all the shame so I can wash my hands and walk away, smug and self-righteous. But if I’m involved in something at any level, I am always responsible for some part of it. I need to figure out what that is.
5. And again, if I’m responsible for something, I should own it. If I drop a ball, I should call my own foul.
Because the only way to win the blame game is not to play it. And the best way not to play it is to accept responsibility.
Jesus, help me live this way!
What about you? Does this help you understand your own conflicts?