GNL number 66

a report of doings at meeting #66, Sunday, November 11, 2012
including liturgical items, major themes, and other odds and ends

INVOCATION

The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own.
You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president.
You realize that you control your own destiny.
—–Albert Ellis

I blame my mother for my poor sex life. All she told me was
“the man goes on the top and the women underneath.”
For 3 years my husband and I slept in bunk beds.
—–Joan Rivers


THEME

Sue opened this rich and wide-ranging conversation on BLAME with some background on the word’s origin, and several wonderful, thought-provoking quotes. She said she’d learned in her family we need instead of judging and blaming, to stay open, not only to family and friends, but to everybody we meet, as Jay says, and to try not to react in just the one blaming mode like her mentally ill brother. See AFTERWORDS for her notes and quotes today, and a later excerpt from Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace is Every Step.

Ann saw blaming as the easy way out, instead of the more difficult effort to hear and understand, and also  as hurtful to the blamer. She too had examples in her family, e.g., Ell, who tries hard to keep open to where people are coming from.  She also noted how blaming can be part of a Good vs. Evil or God vs. the Devil response for many, and she’s not buying it. She asked what the opposite of blaming would be—credit? Or, as several agreed, empathy.  And she described how years ago she found herself the only white in a roomful of black people, and how it struck her hard, “So this is what it feels like to be black…”

Louise, who hosted us this beautiful fall day at her magical home with gorgeous chickens running all around, said she’d learned a long time ago: she simply can’t do it—can’t blame people. Life is too big and complex, so much more than we can easily understand. And who can afford all the pain and distraction of blaming. Louise also gave us the pleasure of meeting her friend Ellen, who’s staying with her till the end of the year, and was joining us today.

It was so good to have Ellen with us. She said she’d grown up in Chicago, and had seen a lot of city life and had wondered for years why blacks there so often hurt or even killed other blacks instead of the whites they could have blamed. A couple of us felt this may have been a kind of referred blaming, acted out on those closest at hand. Ellen also spoke movingly of learning over the last 10 years to understand from a deeper perspective, behavior of her mother’s that had hurt her, and to no longer hold blame for her mother.

Anna startled and broke us up by announcing in a loud voice, “I have nothing to say about this topic, and it’s All Your Fault!” And then however she did recall growing up the little sister of her brilliant-scholar older sister; and not being a brilliant scholar herself (though very creative, we would say), she certainly had plenty of reasons for resenting and blaming. But not: many years later, the two of them have come to a closer, weekly-talk kind of relationship.

Speaking of scholars, it was great to have our favorite historian, Katherine, with us again. Kath said she’d done some research on the idea of blame in the literature of psychology, and come up with 6 points to think about. (See her outline in AW.)  She added that guilt could serve as self-motivation, for positive, as well as negative action. She also said that some in her family had tried to explain/blame her desire for gender change on her older brother’s picking on her when they were children.  But she never thought of it as worse than normal sibling life, and responded to those people that if in fact this was the “cause” of her being transgendered, she would sincerely thank him for it.

Vijaya gave a personal account too, of her conscious accepting of “blame” in her marriage, to allow life in the family to continue without strife and toxicity. This she did without bitterness, but as part of a larger perspective, and later, with the children raised and on their own, she left and has successfully re-made her life on her own, with her store, apartment, and garden, all beautiful. (Though she did ask Louise to adopt her at the farm, promising not to eat any chickens of course.)

Nancy said the idea shows up in her inner life as a tendency toward self-blame, and while her growing up wasn’t idyllic, she doesn’t have blame for her parents so much as recognition they had their own problems. The other more outer kind that she feels frequently, if blame’s a place to hang anger, frustration, outrage, hurt and fear, is her blaming corporations and bankers for most of what’s wrong with America, and Republicans for the rest. Knee-jerk? Simplistic? Yes. And that’s blame. And that’s no good, Grandma, as Lucy would say.  Continued in AW.

A note in summary:  This discussion, even more than usual, led us into many branches of the topic—from good vs.evil and  war vs.peace to veterans this Veterans Day, and male and female roles and the election and real democracy.  But perhaps the most relevant to all was the exchange on learning empathy, which we agreed was key not only to reducing the power of blame, but saving the world. And one of the most encouraging notes was the personal experience some of us mentioned of education programs that focus strongly on building empathy skills; one of which, a version of the Second Step elementary school curriculum, has seen great success here in our local Headstart. Yes, even the little ones, the pre-schoolers can get it!  Shouldn’t we big ones be able to get it too?

 After the recent, still reverberating damage from Hurricane Sandy, especially in New York City and New Jersey, it was not a difficult choice to direct our offering to the Red Cross for Flood Relief. (And sending it through Sue and Jay’s GE connection doubled the total.)


BENEDICTION

Good nature and good sense must ever join: to err is human, to forgive, divine.
—–Alexander Pope

You can’t keep blaming yourself.  Just blame yourself once, then move on.
—–Homer Simpson


NEXT TIME

Sunday, December 9, 2012 (1030), at Sue’s house on Quarry St, Cobleskill.
The topic is SMALL PLEASURES.


AFTERWORDS

from Sue

Blame is a weighty word–its Indo European root, bh³-connects it to: fable, fate, infant, preface, prophet, abandon, banish, bandit, fame, phono-, symphony, confess, blame. Also from old Norse–to prohibit or curse, from Old French to ban or abandon, from the Greek –to Blaspheme, to blame
This and the following quotations made me meditate on the connections between blaming oneself, blaming others, feeling guilt, taking responsibility.

  • “A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.”  ~John Burroughs
  • “Blame is just a lazy person’s way of making sense of chaos.”  ~Doug Coupland
  • “We habitually erect a barrier called blame that keeps us from communicating genuinely with others, and we fortify it with our concepts of who’s right and who’s wrong. We do that with the people who are closest to us and we do it with political systems, with all kinds of things that we don’t like about our associates or our society.
    It is a very common, ancient, well-perfected device for trying to feel better. Blame others….Blaming is a way to protect your heart, trying to protect what is soft and open and tender in yourself. Rather than own that pain, we scramble to find some comfortable ground.”  ~ Pema Chödrön
  • “All violence is the result of people tricking themselves into believing that their pain derives from other people and that consequently those people deserve to be punished.” ~ Marshall B. Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life
  • “Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering.” Parker J. Palmer quoted in “If Only We Would Listen: On What We Could Learn About Politics, Faith and Each Other” by Alicia Von Stamwitz, The Sun, November 2012, p. 5
  • “No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.”  ~Voltaire

And when someone asked, what is the opposite of blaming someone, I focused on this Thich Nhat Hanh quotation which I didn’t read: “When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step

from Katherine:

An outline—

A. Innate/ nature

  1. blame as natural defense mechanism
  2. fight or flight response
  3. lack of maturity
  4. simplistic

B. Nurture

  1. knee jerk/situational claustrophobia
  2. avoidance-avoidance conflict
  3. avoidance learning—parental/societal disdain

C. Fault finding

  1. defending self image
  2. turning the tables—deflection of guilt feelings
  3. self-loathing

D. Transferring responsibility

  1. pluralistic ignorance
  2. social blind spots, i.e., lack of empathy, understanding, intelligence

E. Situational confusion

  1. blame or explain?
  2. class/race/gender/age biases
  3. fear
  4. inability to act

F. Nirvana

  1. balance between internal and external attribution
  2. scholarly approach
  3. search for solutions
  4. maturity/empathy
  5. introspection

From Nancy:

When you blame others, you give up your power to change.
—–Dr. Robert Anthony

Further thoughts on blame—
We seem to need a bad guy, a villain, for our dramas.  But I think what we really need as individuals and as a nation is to learn to do without this all too handy tool for finding bad guys to fear, defend against, punish or even  remove. If we blame, we’re seeing life too simply, as black or white, good or evil, and other people as the OTHER, different and separate from us, when life is really much more complicated and needs closer attention, and understanding. Surely people are more alike than different.  All of us suffer from loss and pain and fears.  We all need someone to tell it to.  And, I believe, at some deep level, we all want peace and goodwill among us. We need to listen to each other, don’t we.

 
 
 
    
 

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