Too often in this crazy world, our first thought when something goes wrong is to pass the blame, and when something goes right we take responsibility, even if it wasn’t of our doing. Most people don’t even think twice about it. If no one else can prove us wrong, why not, right? Why not, indeed.
The first side of the coin is easy to understand. Why take the blame for something you think can’t be traced back to you? This works for many cheating spouses who don’t admit to cheating even when confronted with hotel bills and phone records. They somehow think they can pass them off as “business expenses,” and everything will be kosher. This is also the case when things go wrong at work. One guy misplaces an important file, and then claims he never got it. No one saw it on his desk, so he thinks he’s okay. Of course he didn’t count on the surveillance cameras catching him in his lie. And that’s the problem. Usually, things can be traced back to you one way or another, and no one can lie that well all of the time (well, not many people, anyway). And you know what’s worse than passing the blame? Passing the blame to someone who doesn’t deserve it. Most times if we just fess up we can get through it in some way, shape or form. All the lying does is make it so that people don’t trust us after the fact.
While at the same time the second side of the equation measures up almost exactly the same. Too many people take credit for things they had nothing to do with, or that they had minimal to do with. Let’s say your wife comes home and the place has been vacuumed, so you take credit for it, knowing as you do that her mother was there and took care of it. Or Jed at work did all the work for a project, and you say it was all your idea behind Jed’s back, leading to a promotion. Well, in both instances you lose out because your wife will probably talk to her mother at some point and find you out, and Jed will wonder why you were promoted over him when he did all the work and figure it out. In both instances you’ve lost the trust factor, and in the second instance you might even be fired or demoted for the stunt.
So then, why do people do it if they are most likely to get caught in both instances, destroying trust and confidence? Simple. It’s human nature. We don’t want others to feel negatively about us. On the contrary, we want them to feel good about us. So we trade in long-lasting possibilities for good impressions over momentary good impressions. It seems stupid when you see it written out, but that’s how it shakes out.
I remember when I was 12 years old and I was fascinated by the song “Summertime,” by Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. It had an amazing beat, and the style of the rap blew me away (it didn’t take much back then). Well, I decided I was going to tape the song from the radio and play it over and over until I knew the lyrics by heart. To help me out, while I was playing it, I copied the lyrics down word for word on a sheet of paper. My mom found it when she was cleaning my room and immediately thought it was a poem I had written. I had just started writing poetry that winter, so it wasn’t a stretch to make that assumption. So, she told me first how amazing it was when she saw me again, then she asked if it was a poem I had written. I said yes, because she seemed so happy and excited over it, not knowing then what I know now — that everything comes out in the end when you take credit or pass off blame. Not two weeks later she came home from work sad because she had shown my “poem” to one of her colleagues, all proud of me, and he told her where it had really come from. I was devastated and ashamed, but it was all my fault.
So now I don’t pass on blame. If it was me, I own up to it. Better a disappointment up front and me striving to be better from then on, being honest, than to bask in unwarranted and unearned praise for even a short time, setting myself up for a serious lost of trust later. And that makes me feel all the better when I do something credit-worthy, because then I can really appreciate it instead of wondering when the other shoe is going to drop, or when Jed is going to find out.