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spilt milk

 
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Story time.

I once lived with a person's who's entire world view was based on one axiom: If something happens, someone has to be to blame.  It's raining, the weatherman is to blame for hating us.  If the sun shines, the weatherman is to blame.  If the milk is spilt, someone didn't put it in the fridge properly and that individual must be sought out and punished for their crime.  

I wondered about this.  Why does every action have to have blame associated with it?

Then I remembered something a teacher said.  In English, the action is related to the person.  "He spilt the milk".  Whereas in other languages, it's more common to say "the milk spilt" or "the milk spilt itself"

This is the trouble I have.  Why must we blame someone for split milk?  If the milk spilt because it wasn't sitting in the fridge door securely, I want to talk with others about how do we fix the problem so the milk remains unspilt tomorrow?  

What they hear is "you didn't put the milk away properly."

What I'm saying is "the milk spilt because something is wrong with the design.  Do we need to move the lemon juice so that the milk can fit in there easier or maybe the milk is shifting as the door opens?  Maybe if we changed where the milk lives, then the future will have less spilt milk."

And what they hear is "you are a horrible person because you dropped the milk bottle."

We seem to be conditioned as a society to 1) feel that everything bad must be blamed on a person and 2) get scared that that blame will fall on us so we need to be aggressive before this happens in hopes this will deflect the blame.  
 
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R Ranson: I agree with part of the problem being English wording. The other half is we were raised with that wording. We were in trouble for spilling the milk because we were horsing around and not paying attention, so we attach the idea of blame to the concept. I run into this kind of issue with people a lot, I am trying to debug the system, they are hearing they are bad. I have learned to use totally different words to speak of it, to get around their early programming. I would say "We need to debug the milk storage system so there are no future issues." which not only communicates what I'm talking about, and bypasses their conditioning, but, for the average person, has to be thought out and the words translated down into something they understand and by the time they get that far, they are past the blame stage.

I have a sister who tells me "speak English, dammit!" I say "When I do, you jump to conclusions and misunderstand the point of what I'm saying. Learn to listen to bigger concepts."  And that's what it comes down to "the milk is on the floor, you are in trouble" is a basic concept, "we need to debug the milk storage system" is a complex concept, and people, left to their own devices, default to the basic concepts first. I try to jump over that tendency.

:D
 
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Some people would rather milk(or blood) be wasted, than admit to a mistake.
Mistakes are seen as moral failures, accusations against ones very being.
I think denying ones mistakes is the moral failure.
 
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Pearl Sutton wrote:R Ranson: I agree with part of the problem being English wording. The other half is we were raised with that wording. We were in trouble for spilling the milk because we were horsing around and not paying attention, so we attach the idea of blame to the concept.



Oh so very much.  My father was an absolute demon for blame (only he called it "personal responsibility") being attached to every breakage or spillage.  Get sent to the public wellhouse for water, go outside and pull the rope on the snowmobile.  Broke down worn out piece of shit won't start.  Keep pulling rope.  Eventually the rope breaks and the rewind eats the starter cord.  Go inside.  "Can't get water, the snowmachine broke."  Instant screaming fit from father, possibly culminating in punishment.  Preferred wording: "Dad, I broke the snowmachine."  Punishment still possible, based on an evaluation of emotional status and recent history of chores-related misdeeds, but most likely just get muttering and cussing while father fixes (or helps fix) rewind.  

But the thing is, did I, in truth, break the god damned rewind?  Or did the fucker just disintegrate for the fortieth time under normal use?  Sure, I was pulling on it, same way as always.  To put R's spin on it, there certainly was an actual problem with the design.  The engine was old and low on compression, it needed to be pulled hard and fast and a lot, and the cheaply-cast pot-metal rewind was not designed to take that kind of punishment.  We needed a new snowmobile (with electric start, for the children!) or some acknowledgment that this was a systemic problem, not a careless child problem.  But the father was probably defensive on the subject of old worn-out equipment; we couldn't afford better.  So for the frustrated and angry and fearful child to express the systemic problem in a way that wouldn't trigger the parental meltdown -- let's just say we never found the verbal formula for that.  "I broke the snowmobile" was the only acceptable formula -- and we were stubborn little turds, willing to risk a lot of punishment before we would accept the injustice of copping to a breakage that we didn't feel responsible for.  "We apples didn't fall far from the tree" is the only defense I have there.  Not the only stubborn turds living at that address, is what I am saying.
 
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I generally look at the intention.

A person can drop or bump a glass of milk and it falls to the ground. I give that a pass.

A person that threw the glass of milk against a wall doesn't get a pass. It was intentional.
 
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I have always done the best I was capable of, be that blaming others for spilt milk or lying to avoid blame and punishment. As a somewhat more mature adult I do not allow the ego to tell lies to escape consequences. That change was a process supported by therapy, mature mentors, and Grace.
People are doing the best they know how to do.
 
William Bronson
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wayne fajkus wrote:I generally look at the intention.

A person can drop or bump a glass of milk and it falls to the ground. I give that a pass.

A person that threw the glass of milk against a wall doesn't get a pass. It was intentional.



How do you deal with repeated spilling?
Unwillingness to move the milk out of the way?
Inexplicable refusal to clean up the mess?
I encounter these forms of revealed intention more often.
 
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Repeated spillings are hard. I'm clumbsy. And my brain is usually doing way too many things at one time, especially with kids.

So, while I know I should not put my cup or cutting board or whatever too close to the edge of the table, because it'll tip over....I still do it when I'm tired. I'm not trying to make a mess.

This applies to a lot of things with me. I don't want to put the keys down in a bad spot, or put something down somewhere weird. But, if I'm tired or stressed or distracted, I tend to put it down without thinking. My daughter screams and I just absolutely mindlessly put the things in my hands down and go to her. And so my scissors or keys or tools or needles end up in weird places, becuase my brain switches tracks before I can complete the other task (which includes putting down the things in my hands in a sensible place).

Same applies with loudness. Whenever I get excited, I get loud. I can't help it. No matter how many times I was punished and admonished and scolded for being too loud, I can't stop it. I'd stay at my cousins house and we'd be up late talking at night....and I'd get excited and get too loud and next thing I know, I'm sleeping in my grandma's room. I was always being told "Nikki, talk quieter." "Nikki, you're too loud!" "You're going to wake Grammie!" And I always tried, and I always failed. I still fail, and I'm almost 35.

Somethings, no matter how much we try, no matter how we change things or create routines or try to make new habits, they're just going to go awry. And, I think it's important to realize it's okay and not really that person's fault when they fail over and over without meaning to.

Growing up, I watched my dad get frustrated with my mom because she'd forget to do something. She'd try everything to remember, writing lists, etc. But she still forgot, and it wasn't her fault. Watching that, and sympathizing with her, really helps me when people do things they really can't control.

Sometimes, when we can't change the person, we just have to engineer ourselves or other things to cope with the proverbial milk being spilled every so often. We know the person is going to spill milk, so we set aside extra money to buy more milk. And we make sure the floor is easy to clean. And they don't have milk on the carpet, and we have lots of towels we can use to wipe it up, and a way to wash and reuse those towels.
 
wayne fajkus
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William Bronson wrote:

wayne fajkus wrote:I generally look at the intention.

A person can drop or bump a glass of milk and it falls to the ground. I give that a pass.

A person that threw the glass of milk against a wall doesn't get a pass. It was intentional.



How do you deal with repeated spilling?
Unwillingness to move the milk out of the way?
Inexplicable refusal to clean up the mess?
I encounter these forms of revealed intention more often.



I have no claim on how to deal with the intentional spills and defiances. I just try to recognize whether it was intentional and if it wasn't,  give it a pass. I wish for others to do the same for me. My frustration is when people get angry over unintentional stuff. It's like they are looking for stuff to be angry about. I doubt the underlying problem is the fact that the milk spilled.
 
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I think it also depends how important the item broken is. The father in law is always driving over things in a tractor, he's gone through several thermoses ,crates/buckets etc get it all the time, but once he drove over (2 crates 8 buckets) and his wifes woven basket that she was given by her dead husband.. that is a non replaceable item and he shouldn't have been driving the tractor where he was. So while the others were just, meh we'll get another one the basket was a much bigger issue. It's the same with milk, if you can get more then meh clean it up and go to the shop, but when there is no money for more and that is all the milk there is until next payday... well then pay attention and watch what you are doing.
I disagree with the bit on English wording, in the case of milk falling over in the fridge door I wouldn't say. James spilt the milk, I would say the milk spilt. unless of course I had just dropped it and then it's I spilt the milk. In general with me if someone breaks something once, and wasn't doing something stupid then I do not add blame, so the starter cord.. well that was just maintenance the one on our chainsaw broke for exactly the same reason. but if you are doing something stupid like playing ball in the house and you break something you will be blamed, the same goes for constantly breaking/spilling things. We don't have the money to keep breaking things, what we have is what we have so if things constantly get broken we have to make do with less. (plates and my husband is the issue here!)
 
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What I was hoping we could talk about is how NOT to assign blame.

Not when or how to assign blame.

He was driving the tractor where he shouldn't - assigns blame.
It was intentional that they threw the milk - assigns blame.

Things happen and it is possible that these things are no one's fault.

And even if it is someone's fault, what good does blame do?  It focuses on the past and gets the other person defensive.  

Instead, how do we move forward and find solutions to make the future better?




The fridge was designed by someone who probably has never seen milk come in glass bottles.  That's not their fault.  That's not my fault for buying glass bottle milk.  It's not the fault of the dairy for selling glass bottle milk.

There are only two places in the fridge tall enough for milk to sit.  They are both in the door of the fridge.  One is on the outer edge and the other closer to the hinge.  The outer edge is more convenient so that's where the milk got put.  This is no one's fault.  It seemed like the right thing to do at the time, and I can't imagine anyone with this fridge doing differently.

Except, centrifugal force (again, no one's fault) means that if the milk is on the outer edge of the door, it's top-heavy and will try to fly out of the fridge upon opening.  It's no one's fault.  Even slowly opening the door pushes things against the milk to make it try to come out.  

What we need to do is to put the milk in the other place so it won't fall out upon opening the door.  How to communicate with someone that needs there to be blame for every single thing... it's too difficult.  All they hear is "you are bad because you spilt the milk"   When what I'm saying is "where we put the milk isn't working, let's put it in the other place"
 
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There might be something helpful here?
 
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But we have to assign blame as society, we have to hold people accountable for their actions..

Skandi's point is not lost on me. The Father-In-Law was driving the tractor where he should not have. My Grandfather did the same thing; instead of driving around the driveway, he went across the lawn, down into a ditch, somehow made it up the other side and out into the road. We watched this in total shock, and we realized his Alzheimer's had proceeded to the point where he was no longer in the proper mind to have that responsibility. It was the last time he ever drove his tractor.

I am not saying that is the case in regards to Skandi's incident, but there is nothing wrong with seeing an infraction as a sign of something, and further evaluating it. And if the need warrants, holding people accountable for their actions.

I have every right to get mad at my wife, but my rights stop at the end of her nose too. By that I mean, she has the right to be free from abuse even though I might get mad. A foreman, a manager, a CEO all have things beyond their control, but they still MUST be in control of their actions. So must a husband, or a father....

It was not my Grandfather's fault that he got Alzheimer's, but it is our responsibility as caretakers to ensure he does not plow his tractor into the side of a car coming up the road either. So we do have to assign blame, we do have to ensure responsibility, we do have to hide the keys to the tractor...

 
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"What can everyone do? Praise and blame. This is human virtue, this is human madness."  Friedrich Nietzsche

Praise and blame are symptoms of the ego.  Of course, most adore praise, because it feels good, but continual praise can have as much of a negative effect as constant blame. We have to look at our own reactions in the situation, for a deeper understanding.

With blame, there is a 'blamer' and a 'blamee', it will not work without these two components.  The blamer draws from past experiences where they have been taught that someone, but not me, is responsible for this.  The "not me" is very important here. Fear comes into play here.  It also holds elements of superiority, but is based on fear of being the one who gets blamed.  The blamee, then becomes the inferior one, but only if they choose to do so.  Repeated throughout ones life can have detrimental effects.  I can't do that, I suck at this, I'm clumsy, stupid, ugly, etc...  we've all said it.  Eventually, these statements play and replay in our minds, and we become what we think.
 
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Travis Johnson wrote:

It was not my Grandfather's fault that he got Alzheimer's, but it is our responsibility as caretakers to ensure he does not plow his tractor into the side of a car coming up the road either. So we do have to assign blame, we do have to ensure responsibility, we do have to hide the keys to the tractor...

If one reads Judith Browning's post above, there are definitely many different ways to communicate "responsibility" without assigning blame in such a way as to shift the focus to "how are we going to fix this problem" from "I'm a failure because I screwed up". English is very focused on "blame" and it really hasn't done our civilization much good, IMO. Yes, I agree in your example, that the caretakers need to make that connection and hide the tractor keys - in my mom's case, when I heard she'd badly burned a pot due to her Alzeimers, I asked my sisters if they should consider turning off the breaker to the oven, which is exactly what they did, but it took me asking for them to consider that as the best solution. Blaming mom for the burned pot was a waste of mental and emotional energy - just figure out a reasonable solution to the problem. The words we use in situations, too often focus on the blame rather than the problem solving process - we blame the oil industry for too much CO2 in the atmosphere rather than looking at how to reduce our dependence on it or find uses for that extra CO2. In fact, there's a big difference between "blaming" and "responsibility". The first is not required to get to the second and the second does not always lead from the first. If we wait for the oil industry to clean up the CO2, we'll quite possibly be extinct before they get there. If we use our own ingenuity to sequester carbon in all the farmland in North America that permaculturalists can influence, not to mention every front and back yard, we might make it!

r ranson started this post in an effort to help permies members chose words that will help people focus on the "fix the problem" end of things, and to get ideas of how to do better at that herself. The list Judith posted is from a system called, "Nonviolent Communication". I've had some exposure to this through the school system, but it's much harder to do successfully than one might think, particularly when you've spent years communicating following a different pattern and when you're surrounded by people who think "the blame game" and the "responsibility game" are directly connected, which they don't need to be.
 
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Travis Johnson wrote:But we have to assign blame as society, we have to hold people accountable for their actions..



Why?


It was not my Grandfather's fault that he got Alzheimer's, but it is our responsibility as caretakers to ensure he does not plow his tractor into the side of a car coming up the road either. So we do have to assign blame, we do have to ensure responsibility, we do have to hide the keys to the tractor...



Responsibility looks to the future to make the future better.

Blame only looks to the past.  Blame has nothing to do with responsibility.  

 
Pearl Sutton
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Going back to what I posted earlier, I think part of it is how we word our initial commentary on it, Wording it in a way that is familiar to people makes their brain jump ahead to the familiar response. Wording it differently gets the brain out of it's habitual rut so there is more chance of clear communication. In a way, my issues with social skills is probably useful for me here, as I learned most of them as an adult, and lack the ruts most people have. So it's easier for me to see the rut, to see where people will be going, and deflect them ahead of time. And I'm not always polite, if I'm trying to debug the milk, and someone starts blame stuff, I will interrupt with "Irrelevant!! Please answer the question I ASKED!"  

It's interesting to see the responses to this thread going right into the same old rut, when the question here is "How can we avoid that rut?" :D

I think wording our initial commentary to be deliberately unfamiliar to the person we are talking to might be a good start.
 
William Bronson
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Thanks for the refocusing Jay.

I know for me,  focusing on fixing the problem without assigning blame becomes "how am I gonna fix this, yet again" rather than "how are we going to fix this".
Frequently I cannot get agreement that the milk has spilt,  or that there actually is any milk to begin with.
There is no buy in,  till later when the milk starts to stink,and maybe not them either.
So, clearly I have no solutions, but I am interested in hearing from those who do.
 
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Maybe one thing we can try first is to adjust our attitude towards ourselves and try to avoid self blaming thoughts and verbalization?  I sometimes 'blame' my midwest upbringing for a tendency to have a sense of guilt no matter what the situation...somehow it must be my fault.  Have spent years working on that one...and I know that if I'm not mindful it tends to carry over to assigning 'blame' in others.

I do think it's hard to look at the world without taking 'cause and effect' into account...I'm not sure that is the same as blame though?

If the door to the refrigerator is opened and the milk flies out there were a series of conditions that certainly caused the result and they are important to understand in order to correct?

and thanks for giving me something distracting to think about today, I needed that


 
Travis Johnson
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I guess my experience with blame is a little bit different. When I was in upper management on the railroad, we would have these stupid meeting where we would go around, and around, and around the table until I noticed a pattern. When someone finally accepted blame for the problem, suddenly the meeting moved in a forward, productive way again. There was no consequence to it, everyone just expected problems, they just did not want to be the one that accepted it.

So I noticed this and started taking the blame for a lot more than I really should have. As soon as I said "That is on me", the meeting moved forward.

After a few months of this the Vice President asked me why I was so hard on myself, and I told him, I did it because it moved the meeting forward, and there was no consequences from it. After another month went by, he cornered me again, and said I was right.

It was the most ironic thing ever; all these managers were afraid for their jobs and going around the room blaming one another actually making it worse on themselves, when all it took was a person to be humble to make the company a better place. It was as simple this, I would speak up and say, "You know, now that I think about it, the Safety Department is really to blame for that...and boom, an awkward moment of silence and then off we were on another topic that had some meaning. (I was the Safety Coordinator so that is why I said Safety Department).

The problem with blame is, the majority of people feel being humble is a bad thing, and it is not, humiliation is what we need to avoid at all costs, and that is far different then just being humble.

But I think that is what we are really talking about anyway. People have used the term blame, but that is not what is the most upsetting; the most crushing to a human; it is utter humiliation.

When you spill some milk and it really is not your fault at all, being blamed is NOT the crushing part, it is from the person of authority humiliating you, or them constantly humiliating you, that is damaging. That is the core of the problem.
 
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I think this might be a relevant quote

 Buddhist teachings suggest........that we are looking for the wrong type of truth. The debate around this incident has focused primarily on the question “Who is to blame?” or “Who is the villain of this story?” The Buddha, however, was known to point out that the question we should be asking is “What are the conditions that led to this situation?”


The subject of this article doesn't matter so much in this thread, but here's a link to the article if interested Seeking understanding instead of blame can bring greater clarity and solutions to an ambiguous situation
 
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Travis Johnson wrote:

When I was in upper management on the railroad, we would have these stupid meeting where we would go around, and around, and around the table until I noticed a pattern. When someone finally accepted blame for the problem, suddenly the meeting moved in a forward, productive way again. There was no consequence to it, everyone just expected problems, they just did not want to be the one that accepted it.

Travis you found a work around. There are places for that and you were humble enough, or had broad enough shoulders to carry the load, that you were prepared to use what worked. It doesn't/didn't fix the underlying problem, or teach people what Judith Browning quoted from Buddha - "what are the conditions that led to this"? I can see that on a railroad, knowing what led to a problem would be of great interest to me, so long as it then led to responsible problem solving and improvement *before* a deadly accident.

More discussion and education about how communication styles and approaches can lead to genuine solutions to problems we face, large and small, is a gift we can give ourselves, our family, and our community!
 
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I have often found that in situations where someone is likely to feel blamed, trying to discuss it in the moment isn’t always best. Even in the example of spilt milk, if someone has just experienced something like the unexpected and accidental breaking of glass and having to deal with the mess, they are likely upset. While in some ways most practical seeming, talking about it then is not as likely to lead to a positive interaction as they may well still be in a state of fight or flight (albeit a fleeting one, assuming a healthy, regulated nervous system and the ability to come back to baseline easily). This could tend to make them more reactive and more likely to blame or feel blamed. They might also just feel guilty or embarrassed and be likely to project and react defensively.
Perhaps having the discussion at a time when everyone has calmed down or when the issue is not at hand could be more conducive to problem solving without blame?
I have also found that curiosity in exploring something is always helpful, though it sounds as if that is your attitude.
 
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This is a tough issue for sure because it is so impacted by context.  In my line of work, we expend a great deal of effort looking for 'causality' in natural phenomena.  Causality is not nothing, and yet under different circumstances and contexts, it can become 'blame'.  'Causality' is relatively free of pejorative association, but 'blame' generally is not.  In the spilt milk scenario, there may be many conscious and unconscious reasons for the spiller to have spilled the milk and it can even become quite grey as to whether or not it was truly accidental or deliberate.  But the person pointing it out with a goal of minimizing future spills (henceforth, "the observer") will be in an interesting position.  If the spiller came from a background where all such incidences had "blame value", then they will rarely see such an incident as a situation without blame.  Their knee-jerk response will be that they are either "the blamed" or "the not blamed".  The observer in this case may or may not be prepared for someone coming from this angle.  But additionally, it can be the case where the observer has a certain demeanor, deliberate or unconscious, that is 'triggering' to the spiller/observed.  This typically will end up in conflict in the heat of the incident, but possibly can be talked through at a later time as was noted above.  A more personal example of this latter type is my wife and her sister.  My wife triggers a LOT of people, but not everyone.  She must trigger her sister quite badly....because they have not spoken now in over 20 years.  Before this, my wife claimed to really want to keep up contact, yet her sister never reciprocated.  I'll give my wife credit that she tried, but her demeanor during her last few conversations with her sister would really raise my hackles.....very judgmental and bossy "big-sister"-ish.  I did tell her that I could at least understand her sister's position on this.....which was not met with agreement from my wife.  So it goes...

Main point here is the personal/historical context of the observer/commentator in many cases and how that may or may not always mesh with the context of the spiller/observed.  Sometimes these can be resolved rather quickly, ..... other times, not so easily.  But a good discussion here for weighing different experiences and observations.
 
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r ranson wrote:What I was hoping we could talk about is how NOT to assign blame.

Not when or how to assign blame.



It is an interesting exercise in thought processes. And I agree with William Bronson.

I've worked most of my career in an environment where a screw-up can lead directly to loss of life and huge political consequences.

The mentality in these work environments is, humans will typically make mistakes, so we fix the problem not the blame, then hopefully learn from the exercise. But accept the human factor is so variable mistakes will alway happen regardless of the processes - minimisation is the aim.

Importantly, minimisation means having processes and training in place that reduces risk. So, to use the 'milk' analogy in a child context:

1. Advise and show the child how to get the milk from the fridge, how to handle it during use, then how to return it to the fridge. Then repeat to reinforce 'best practice'.

2. If (when) the kid spills it, there's no use reprimanding the child if it was unintentional. Simply clean up the mess TOGETHER, show the correct process again and discuss the incident with the child to reinforce best practice again and ask what they've learnt from the exercise.

This is precisely how workplace safety operates!

There's no use getting all flustered and blaming people - 'He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone ...', or in the Australian context:

Manager/Politician: 'How did THAT happen?! Who did it!!'

Plebs: 'Procedures and Standards were followed but there was obviously an unforeseen fuck-up.'

Manager/Pollie: 'Who was involved and what's going to be done about it?'

Plebs: 'We work in a team environment so it was a team oversight, it will be rectified ASAP.'

Manager/Pollie: 'We want names!!'

Plebs: 'Well, the buck stops with the senior sign-off Officer, so that would be you! However, an alphabetical list of the team members is attached for your information.'

Manager/Pollie: (no further response)

So, somewhat ironically, if you seek to apportion blame it usually means wearing some of the responsibility yourself.

 
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F Agricola wrote:So, somewhat ironically, if you seek to apportion blame it usually means wearing some of the responsibility yourself.



You got something there.
I think looking to blame someone might stem from feeling blamed/responsible/affected.
I have some skin in the game, so I think YOU should have something on the line.
If I don't care about the smell of rotting milk, do I care about how it got there or why?
Likewise,  bosses tend to care about things that they have to explain to their own boss, so the shit runs down hill.

In my own experience, no consequences means no change in behavior, and spilled milk doesn't mean anything in and of itself to some people.
Consequences could be vague disapproval, or burnt fingers,  but if it's nothing,nothing changes.

I'm wondering, along with not blaming when things go wrong, should we also avoid giving praise when things go right?

My mother has always made a point of being proud for us,  not proud of us.
She explained that being proud of us was to her,  taking credit for our actions, including the act of just being.
She wasn't going to take blame for our worst deeds,  so why should  she get credit for our best?
Likewise,  if we are not going to apportion blame,  why apportion praise?
If nothing else,  somebody who has not contributed to a success will feel damned by faint praise.
So maybe praise everyone equally, or not at all?


There is a joke in construction about Dave,the guy who got fired.
After he's gone,when ever the boss wants to know who is to blame for something, the guys are quick to name Dave.
This really starts to add up.
After enough of this,  the boss says "I never should have fired  Dave, sure he screwed up a lot , but no wonder,  he was the only one who did anything around here! "

 
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One of the core tenants of practicing mindfulness for me is battling the idea of blame. Blame is just a manifestation of ego. At the highest level, blame does no one any good. At best, it makes us angry at a person instead of confused at ourselves. At worst... no need for that.

There are endless sources of conflict in my life that I would love to assign blame. My dog for barking at the raccoons who ran way long ago. My s/o for not doing her dishes. The plow driver for not putting the gate down and berming in my driveway. That prius for WHY ARE YOU SLOWING DOWN IN THE SINGLE LANE AND SPEEDING UP IN THE PASSING LANE

I still complain, but when I get a chance to collect myself I try and remember that higher level. What's the use in me blaming someone? I can clearly see how it's going to improve my life to confront my s/o over a dish I can clean in 30 seconds [Narrator: It did not, in fact, improve his life]. And you know, maybe her day was shit and she forgot about the dish.

At work we often had what we called "blameless post-mortems" in which we try and diagnose problems without blaming someone for their actions. The point is that even if someone caused a problem, we are a team and the whole point of this exercise is to stop the problem from occurring in the future. If someone failed, that's because there weren't appropriate safeguards or backups in place. I still love that idea, even though I've never met an organization that actually implemented them. Someone did get blamed, and sometimes people got fired. But it always felt like a great problem solving tool. Before we start to fix this, let's set a precedent that our goal is not to blame a person. It's to improve the process & infrastructure.

When I'm doing good at mindfulness, all this is easy. Blame is obviously a path toward self-harm: arguments, firings, and personal discomfort. But you know, I'm still human. And sometimes it's clearly someone's fault for spilling the milk. But I always wish it wasn't.
 
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This is a great, and interesting, conversation.

My dad is one of those people who feels like someone must be blamed and, as the younger and only male of 4 children, I suspect he was quite spoiled & never got blamed for anything as a child, so he now believes it's always someone else's fault when things happen.
So, growing up, I typically received the blame for most of the things went wrong; regardless of whether I was actually involved. If I was in my bedroom when the milk was spilled in the kitchen, it was probably my fault for being lazy and not putting it in the refrigerator correctly. If my younger sister did something wrong, it was my fault for not intervening or fixing it afterwards. I wasn't punished or anything when I accepted it, so life went on. The opposite was the case with praise. If my grades were good, if the house was clean, or if I did something with good results it was the expectation, so praise wasn't warranted.
Now, as an adult, I naturally accept the blame for everything. The words I probably use the most are "I'm sorry" to anyone who is inconvenienced in my presence; which, I'm not going to lie, I am really clumsy & can be careless when my brain is in overdrive. If someone trips over a rock, I apologize for not seeing it first & moving it out of the way. If a potted plant gets root rot, I apologize for not realizing the soil wasn't well draining & amending it. Really annoying after a while.
Its not that I'm a pushover, I just automatically assume responsibility for the bad, and never accept credit for the good. That way time isn't spent assigning the blame instead of finding a resolution.
It seems when you naturally assume the blame, it makes it easier for others to assign it to you, which has been a pattern of my experience with others as an adult. Especially in jobs or in group projects. I never realized it was an issue until my (awesome) boss once told me "Stop apologizing for everything, that had nothing to do with you." (Of course, the next thing I did was apologize for apologizing, hehe).
I think a big part of it is cultural, and I would think some of it is human nature.
When the cavemen sent out hunting parties & the mammoth got away due to a mistake Barney made, I imagine Fred, & the other cave men, would blame Barney for their empty stomachs. Now, when you have parents, leaders, teachers, religion, etc. incorporate the concept of blame into all aspects of life, it becomes the norm, and is difficult for one person to get away from, since daily interaction with people & the media tend to result in constant exposure to it.
I think it would be amazing to be able to change the way of thinking, but it seems (to me) like it will depend on everyone working together to influence the next generation to think differently; which means breaking the current frame of mind.



 
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My brain works best when others use assertive communication styles.  



It's not blaming
it's saying this situation isn't working because...
and opens the door to solutions for the future.
 
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I know this hit home for me when I was a young parent.  It was very important to me to make sure my children knew the behavior was wrong, or inappropriate not them.   It is so important how we use words.  You are bad you hit your brother / hitting is bad.  This over simplifies my point, because probably best to stay away from "bad" ECT. But you get my point.  With not only children, but adults assigning blame often is counter productive because people often stop really listening and get defensive.  Also staying away from  you statements.  Sometimes it is best to skip the issue and go straight to the solution.  Everyone knows the milk spilled, and probably who spilled it so maybe just say what do you think we can do so next time the milk won't be spilled?
To quote Mr. Rogers "be kind, be kind, be kind."
 
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Kc Simmons wrote:

I just automatically assume responsibility for the bad, and never accept credit for the good. That way time isn't spent assigning the blame instead of finding a resolution.

I find it interesting that you found the same "solution" as Travis Johnson to keep a situation moving past the "blame stage" towards problem solving. So what words can we come up with to get past "blame" without taking the blame onto ourselves when sooo... many people around us are conditioned to that "blame before you fix" approach?
Pearl Sutton came up with one approach:

Wording it differently gets the brain out of it's habitual rut so there is more chance of clear communication.


Judith Browning's list from the Center for Nonviolent Communication takes training and is more likely to be successful if an entire group gets at least basic training in the approach.
r ranson just posted a video about "assertive" communication which is actually closely related to Nonviolent Communication - the respecting the needs and feelings of both the speaker and the recipient in particular.
I'll add, "Stating the Obvious" which in this case would be something like: "Blaming is not a prerequisite of problem solving," followed by words that get the problem solving process started.

So let's start a list - What have people said that intentionally or accidentally moved people past the "blame" trap and directly into cooperative problem solving?

If we can manage a good list that fits many different people's styles and situations, I will challenge everyone to be mindful in situations that usually start the blame game and try out and report back on the results, both positive and negative, so we end up with a bucketful of tested options.
 
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I find this conversation really interesting, but I feel like I maybe don't really understand it, either.

Are there really that many people who when hearing, "Hey, can we try putting the milk in this other spot? It keeps tipping over when we put it here." will get defensive about being blamed? I guess I understand that some people might feel blamed if someone says, "hey, you keep spilling the milk when you open the fridge." A simple tweak in wording like above would be enough for almost everyone, I would think. Maybe I don't get it.

I'm like Travis. I really don't care if I get blamed for something, especially if it gets things moving. And I find it often puts me in a better position to fix the situation that led to the problem. An example happened not that long ago at work. There was a situation where two of us had had our hands on a file and it ended up going out with an error.  I knew exactly why the error had happened, so before anyone could even start talking about who did it, I just said, "Yeah, that was my file and this is what happened. Could we change our procedures in such and such a way to avoid that happening again?"

In the jobs I've worked at, people who take on blame are more respected and trusted, and thought to be more reliable than those who don't. People who are always weaseling out of blame or trying to blame others don't fool many people.  Sometimes they are actually skilled at something or are happy in a hard to fill position, so people put up with them. Most of the time, they don't last very long at the job.

I get that raven wants to avoid blame altogether and focus on future solutions. If assigning blame is actually such a pervasive habit in our society, maybe it's easier to just work on how you feel about accepting blame, and how to the resulting position of responsibility to solve the problem. That doesn't mean YOU have to come up with a solution or even that you have to identify the problem. But it puts you in a leadership position where you can say, "Hey, there's a situation here that's not working. Can anyone help me figure out what it is/why it's happening/how to fix it?"

If you're trying to deal with a situation where someone else is getting defensive about being blamed, are tweaks in wording like I suggested near the beginning really so ineffective? I don't think I've ever encountered a situation where 90% of the people involved wouldn't just roll their eyes at the person whining, "Well, I only put the milk there cause so and so said that's where it goes." and get on with things.
 
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We do that with illness and disease too. When someone gets cancer or whatever, we try to find a reason or a blame, like "He got lung cancer because he smoked", which might be a reason to blame the poor guy but I had a friend who never smoked and got lung cancer. I think sometimes it makes the world seem more logical if there is someone or something to blame than if things just happen randomly. Because random cancer is scary. It could happen to us. Our brain likes patterns to help us explain things. Like milk spilling because someone caused it to happen. Milk just getting spilt because that sometimes happens or cancer killing someone because that sometimes that happens makes our brain feel uncomfortable. It's scary because we feel helpless.
 
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Laurie Meyerpeter wrote:It's scary because we feel helpless.


And that's the problem we are trying to figure out here, how to NOT be helpless, how do we fix things so we don't have to be helpless. Not everything CAN be fixed easily, but a LOT can, and when people are too scared to talk about solutions, there will definitely not be any.

Thank you for great point to add to this discussion:
How do we word things in a positive manner to help others move from helpless and fearful to solution oriented thinking?
I'm still with "bypass that part of the brain by confusing it, making it think differently."

As far as the solution oriented thinking, I have brain structure issues from seizures that makes reading emotional content in speech and faces difficult for me, and I know that sometimes when people are looking for sympathy, and I offer solutions, it annoys them. I wish there was a way to tell whether a person is looking for sympathy or solutions. I try to be sympathetic, but I am GOOD at solutions, that's how my head works.
 
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On reading through this thread, it appears that two words are being used, w/out turn signals sorta speak, for 5 different concepts and situations. Maybe that should be one word. Please everybody, be careful of the context, the details.

"Blame" is an attack or, at best, a social manipulation, a power play. I personally find it repugnant, costly and boring. I _think_ that's what r-ransom started out addressing.

Assigning responsibility is decidedly different. That happens routinely in certain team games where an offender is called on it and raises their hand to acknowledge. That doesn't mean they agree exactly, but they acknowledge the call and the game moves on.


Somebody above said if there are not consequences, behavior doesn't change. Yup, totally. But this is really nothing like "blame". Amazing how often and easily I can track mud into the kitchen until my sister hands me the mop and puts the lid back on dinner until I get that floor clean. I was doing a stint at "user support" which involved basic hand holding when some office worker called IT hollering about their new printer doesn't work. I picked up the manual, went over and explained that I never had any problem with this machine so I didn't know what could be wrong, but we could probably figure it out by going through the manual TOGETHER. Then, page by page, line by line I would guide them through the manual until we found the note about making sure it was plugged in. That usually took about 10 minutes, maybe 15 if I was feeling particularly annoyed. The recidivism rate went way down after it became clear that _they_ would carry a certain amount of responsibility for their issues.

I also do as Travis related, taking responsibility regardless. But I don't consider it any kind of virtue - it's' a method of controlling and directing an interaction which will work in some situations. I have used it as a way of discouraging the "blame" habit. I don't want to spend any time at a piss-on dance which can easily get out of hand with bad consequences. Since I can afford to stop it dead this way,  NOW, I do.  And move right along. The blamer gets snubbed and that particular habit may start to look less appealing. In some situations with some people it works - other times there are better ways.

I don't think there is any one solution for all the different issues and probably there isn't any solution that by itself solves the anything, ever. There is a difference between simple bad, careless, habits which walk over others, and "take down" blame motivated by wanting to see the other put down for some personal emotional/identity/security/political reason; and then there is simple malice, wishing to see the other suffer. I have seen all three; I have been the perpetrator of the first two. None are something one should let continue. But dealing with it is probably always going to be drudge work, at best.

It may or may not help to know what kind of person one is dealing with. A generic approach might be to try to bring the problem forward  w/out starting a personal fight, or even a discussion of the merits. And then something along the lines of: "Here, we expect people to make mistakes and be wrong frequently. It happens a lot when we work on new concepts and projects - the learning curve, you know. We have found that often what seems totally right at first turns out to be not so much. So we ask everybody to try to avoid sounding god-like at all, but especially at the expense of somebody else - because the roles reverse frequently."

@r-ransom

If there were some particular events which gave rise to the initial Q, perhaps if you can set those forth with a little more detail we, your peanut gallery, can see the topic path a bit more clearly and maybe do better at keeping to the marked trail...


Regards,
Rufus
 
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I guess I have some confusion as “spilt milk”. To me the saying was always “Don’t cry over spilt milk”, never about blame or why there was milk spilt. I’m usually uncomfortable with excoriating folks over mistakes and believe in forgiveness and understand often a complex sequence of things usually lead up to the mistake that informed, guided or even could be said to caused the mistake. A pilot makes a mistake and crashes a plane, usually the investigation finds procedures, training or interfaces can be improved to reduce the chance of that sequence of events from happening again. The one time I really messed up on a job involved me causing the delay of a 747 cargo aircraft headed to Japan due to an equipment breakdown, a breakdown that was the initial reason the delay happened. I made the decision, based on inexperience, to bring up another piece of equipment and thereby exacerbating the delay by a few minutes. The next morning first thing I had to go on a worldwide conference call and explain what happened. I later learned a maintenance supervisor had loudly proclaimed I would try to blame the equipment, but instead I took full responsibility and laid out corrective action by me to prevent a reoccurrence. Two weeks later I got a raise, so I guess I did ok. To me the important thing is not to ask who, but rather grab a rag and help clean it up.
 
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James Whitelaw wrote:I guess I have some confusion as “spilt milk”. To me the saying was always “Don’t cry over spilt milk”, never about blame or why there was milk spilt.



A very good point James.  It would seem to me that we might want to then take a look at our reaction to the spilt milk.
 
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My take is that humans are comfortable with a world where there’s discernable, preferably clear, causation.

This gives us a shot at controlling our environment.

The emotional content - credit or blame - is subjective and optional.
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