I play golf now and then. In fact I’ve been playing golf most of my life and, like a cook who can quote Julia Child, I know the pros.
My original golf hero was Arnold Palmer. Arnie was one of “The Big Three” of his era, along with Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus.
Nicklaus was the greatest of those three, Palmer the most loved, and Player the most traveled. His Hall of Fame bio includes this line: [he had] a bunker game that is considered the greatest ever developed. That may well be true, because he was terrific from the sand.
I’ve heard Mr. Player say he never missed a bunker shot, but I’ve actually seen him miss a bunker shot.
How? Technically he didn’t miss the shot because it wasn’t his fault. The sand was badly raked. There was a pebble under the ball. A gust of wind stopped his shot.
Belief is powerful, and Player protected his belief in his bunker game by playing “The Blame Game.”
Jimmy Buffett and immigrants in New York City
Last week the mayor of New York City responded to complaints from residents about all the immigrants that have shown up there. Although the mayor is a big proponent of NYC being a sanctuary city, this was too much. But it wasn’t his fault.
He blamed the governor of New York. She blamed the president of the United States. He blamed the governor of Texas.
It isn’t just professional golfers and politicians who play the blame game, we all do. But most of us don’t play it at the level of the politicos.
Psychologists give five reasons why we blame someone else. One of those is to explain the cause of something unwanted. (A window broken by a baseball?)
Another is to attack someone else. This works well with an audience that already reveres you. Politicos are very good at this, and we let them get away with it when we like them.
Blaming as a defense mechanism is another reason, and that fits Mr. Player’s reason for blaming something other than himself for a (very rare) missed bunker shot.
It also fits a lot of business leaders, journalists, celebrities, and kids caught with their hand in the cookie jar. “Billy made me do it.”
The fourth reason is that blaming someone else is just easier. Been there, done that, and it works — but (at least in my experience) only in the short term.
The scariest reason we blame others is fifth on the list: to some degree it removes our inhibitions. Start by blaming someone else and it is but the work of a moment to knock them to the ground, grinding your heel as you step on them.
Those are not the kind of things normal, rational people do, but we have seen it happen literally in far too many videos.
Of course the kicks and beatings aren’t always physical, and they aren’t always even carried out in person. Someone blames a parent for hindering their agenda at a school board meeting, then threatens (this is on record) to ruin his business online.
It begins with blaming someone else, and it escalates into actions that are, in fact, evil.
Inhibition in this sense is voluntary or involuntary restraint that keeps us from expressing some emotion. Losing that restraint causes everything from inappropriate PDA (“Get a room!” someone shouts.) to road rage.
Those kinds of inhibitions are good because they can save us not only from embarrassment, but also injury — or perhaps jail.
Playing the game
Many of us have fallen prey to the blame game. Intuitively, if not from our childhood education, every one of us knows that blaming someone else for our own faults is wrong, and yet we do it.
The truth is that sometimes it is hard to tell the truth.
We want to look good, we don’t want to be embarrassed, we feel the need to deflect. In those moments, how do we not blame someone or something else?
We have to develop three skills: self control, self belief, and honesty.
Self control comes into play when we learn to act rather than react. Steven Covey wrote about this masterfully in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It is a simple but underused skill, especially when our emotions run high.
Self belief is important when you are tempted to blame someone else. With it you will know that this thing for which you want to shift the blame will not destroy you. Perhaps even more importantly, it will not define you.
Honesty is defined in part as being “free of deceit.” Blaming someone else for your own mistakes or faults is a form of deceit, and cultivating the practice of honesty helps both with self control and self belief.
Assigning the blame
In life when things go awry there is often some person at fault. Many of us seem to think it is our place to point out who that is to anyone who will listen. We are often most eager to do so when we can distance ourselves from responsibility, even if we should bear it.
Jimmy Buffett knew that and in Margaritaville wrote first:
Some people say that there’s a woman to blame
But I know, it’s nobody’s fault.
On reflection, as the song of escape progresses, Buffett stops trying to escape. The line then becomes:
Some people say that there’s a woman to blame
But I know, it’s my own damn fault.
Good for him.
This story may be apocryphal or true, but it’s so good that I’ll repeat it here:
It is said that The Times once sent out a question to some well known authors asking, “What’s wrong with the world today?” They received this response:
Yours, G.K. Chesterton.”
Jimmy Buffett and G. K. Chesterton both got it right. Now let’s fix the world.
Do good. It’s in you.