A few nights ago, Liam accidentally hit Ellie. The accidentally part is suspicious, actually. He was upset about something, and I am fairly sure he meant to hit her. But, he didn't mean to hurt her. So, when she was crying and I told him to apologize, his response was: "I didn't do it!" What he meant was: "I didn't mean to do it!" Either way, the damage was done and his sister was hurt.
This is a common scenario among children. Who can blame them? It's tough to accept responsibility for something that went wrong, especially when they know they had a hand in making it go wrong. Often, it's easier to not only deny responsibility, but to also blame someone else. Liam attempted to say it was Ellie's fault he hit her because she made him mad. That's 5-year-old logic for you. When this happens with my kids, I tell them that whether they meant to do something or not, they need to accept the consequences, not blame others, and give the apology, and play nicer.
This is a common scenario among adults, unfortunately. Whether it's a failed project at work or a failed relationship in our personal lives, too often we fail to accept responsibility for our actions. Maybe you know someone like this -- the person who is always the victim, and nothing is ever their fault. My boss doesn't like me, that's why I didn't get that promotion. My ex is a total jerk, and that's why we broke up. My mother likes my brother better, and that's why I'm never invited anywhere.
You get the idea -- the person who doesn't have the courage to admit that maybe someone else was more qualified for the promotion, or that maybe they contributed (or even caused) the breakdown of their relationship, or that maybe their negative attitude keeps people from inviting them places.
I believe the reason adults avoid taking the blame is the same as why children don't: we all have difficulty admitting we were wrong, that we are less than perfect. And, blaming someone else is a surefire way to avoid having to admit, even to ourselves, that we did something wrong.
Let me tell you a little secret: once you start admitting you aren't perfect, once you get past that scary moment and admit it out loud that YOU messed up, it feels great. Great? Why, you ask? Because the pressure to be perfect is too much to bear. And when we can simply admit that we aren't perfect, then we start to LEARN from our mistakes and mend our relationships.
By the way, when we admit we aren't perfect, when we show others that we make and learn from mistakes, we gain an incredible amount of credibility. I see this in my classroom. If I write a test question and a student brings to my attention that the question is flawed in some way, my reaction is to apologize and make it right, whether it's throwing the question out or awarding points for more than one answer. I use the flawed question as an opportunity to teach. If I stubbornly say there is nothing wrong with the question and say the students must figure it out on their own, I lose credibility with them, and I instantly become unapproachable.
Sometimes, we hesitate to take the blame because, like Liam hitting Ellie, we didn't intend for something to happen the way it did. Sure, we knew we weren't putting a lot of effort into that relationship, but we didn't mean to drive the other person away from us. Again, like Liam hitting Ellie, regardless of intention, the effect remains the same. We did drive that person away, and we need to accept responsibility instead of denying our part in it, or worse -- blaming someone else for what we did.
When we accept responsibility for our own actions, we become open to learning from our past, as opposed to being doomed to merely repeat it.