Stop pointing fingers, own your shit

XKCD comic script about blame. 'I feel sad, bad things are happening', 'They must be someone else's fault. But whose?'. 'Aha! My friends on I bet if I yell at my scared friends I will feel better.

"Brazil is broken. I can't do anything." The Brazillian President, Bolsonaro, said, "there was this virus, made possible by the media we have, this media without character." Weak, unreliable. That's what I think of Bolsonaro when I read this. Can you feel it too?

Brazil has less than 3% of the world population, but almost 11% of all deaths by COVID-19. Bolsonaro has called the new coronavirus a 'little flu' and implied that people who die from it are "soft." These are facts that scream massive failure, that scream weakness. But we didn't need to know them to feel that he was weak–we only needed to see him pointing fingers and saying he "can't do anything."

Blaming others erodes trust and respect–the foundations of our relationships. It takes our attention away from dealing with the problem. Taking ownership and then doing everything in our power to resolve it is the fastest way to make an issue fade into the background. Attempts to do anything else only end up increasing the problem. The Buddhists have a parable that illustrates this well:

"It's just as if a man were wounded with an arrow thickly smeared with poison. His friends & companions, kinsmen & relatives would provide him with a surgeon, and the man would say, 'I won't have this arrow removed until I know whether the man who wounded me was a noble warrior, a priest, a merchant, or a worker.' He would say, 'I won't have this arrow removed until I know the given name & clan name of the man who wounded me... until I know whether he was tall, medium, or short [...] 'I won't have this arrow removed until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was that of a common arrow, a curved arrow, a barbed, a calf-toothed, or an oleander arrow.' The man would die and those things would still remain unknown to him".

It's absurd to think someone would deal with such a critical situation looking for blame, for irrelevant information. The reason that this parable always resonated with me is that—besides being comic to imagine—it makes one point brilliantly:

Even if something happening to me is not my fault, it still is my responsibility.

Now I need to clarify that I don't mean that we should sulk, feeling guilty, and pity ourselves into inaction. In many ways, that is just jamming a second arrow into a freshly opened wound. It also doesn't mean we need to be Super Heroes and deal with it alone. It means we need to address the issue, we need to own everything and do what's in our power–including asking for help.

Taking ownership when things go wrong requires humility and courage. It's hard. But doing that is an absolute necessity to learning and improving. It inspires others to do the same. In contrast, when we start playing the blame game, it infects all parts of our lives and the people around us. So own your shit, and don't let the fear of responsibility hold you back from growing.

"You can get discouraged many times, but you are not a failure until you begin to blame somebody else and stop trying."

― John Burroughs.