By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is the noblest; Second by imitation, which is the easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest. ~ Confucius
You probably have a person like this in your life. They constantly complain about how bad their life is. They obsess about how this person or that person is responsible for their perpetual misery. They pump their fists at their fate or their unlucky circumstances. They pride themselves in being totally blameless in their situation.
Now take a look in the mirror. Does any of these things describe you? You may not have considered that possibility as you were reading the list of woes above. Truth be told, “they” used to be me until I started asking myself this question everyday:
What’s my role in this situation?
It’s a simple question but if you are struggling with what I call the blameless syndrome (we all struggle with this from time to time), it will change you for the better.
You’ll reclaim your power by reclaiming your blame. Many of us consider being blameless a virtue. You might even think it makes you morally superior. The truth is when you are blameless, you have no power. You have given all your power to exert influence over the situation to your opponent or life circumstance. Take some time to sit and self-reflect. You will likely find something that will challenge the belief that you are blameless. Rather than seeing culpability as weakness, see it as your opportunity to change your own circumstance for the better. The greater the culpability, the bigger the opportunity.
You’ll become less self-righteous. You will learn to let go the idea that you are always right. It’s exhausting – because it’s not reality. You’ll likely experience relief.
You’ll stop being a victim, even when you are victimized. Let’s face it, things happen for no good reason and through no fault of yours: freak accidents, crime, natural disasters, and personal tragedies. In the aftermath of such an event, it is natural to feel powerless, helpless, and hopeless. As painful as these experiences are, you still get to choose your role. Will you harbor anger or will you let go of the hurt? Will you learn to trust again or will you always be looking over your shoulder? Will you engage or withdraw? Try again or quit? Love or hate? The choice is yours.
You’ll become more mindful. Mindfulness is essentially the ability to observe yourself and your environment in the present moment, without judgement. You’ll begin to observe your own actions, even when you are in emotionally difficult situations. You will begin to see your blind spots, or seek help from others to help identify them.
You’ll become more emotionally mature. Emotional maturity will come naturally as you observe yourself and become more proactive about how you respond to life. Consistently reflecting on your role will help you to see that it is often our own reactions that exacerbate bad circumstances. You will begin to use this awareness to influence circumstances for good by changing the way you react (or “pro-act”).
You’ll apologize more sincerely. Ever heard an apology that began like this “I’m sorry if….” or “I’m sorry but….” These words are almost always followed by words that demonstrate that the person “apologizing” has not really taken full responsibility for their part of the conflict. Figuring our your role and apologizing sincerely, without the “ifs” or “buts,” will resolve your conflicts much more effectively.
You’ll get better at dealing with criticism. By asking yourself “What’s my role?” you will put yourself ahead of your critics. You’ll get better at anticipating and answering their objections. You will also get better at reflecting on valid criticism rather than becoming defensive. You’ll use them to help you grow personally and professionally.
You’ll become more attractive to others. Most people don’t like to hang around negative thinkers and whiners. As you begin to take charge of your emotional life, your optimism will increase. You will become irresistible.
You’ll leave mediocrity behind and pursue big goals and dreams. We like to use our blameless syndrome as an excuse for why we can’t achieve big dreams. You will stop waiting for the right circumstances, the right person, or the right income. You will begin to create your own circumstances – like the high peak that creates its own weather.
You’ll dramatically improve your relationships. This will be the most impactful life change you will see. Through a combination of all the above benefits, you will gain the respect, trust, and admiration of loved ones, friends, and colleagues. You will be more loving, compassionate, empathetic, and patient. You will become more present to those you love.
So, are you courageous enough to ask the question? To sit with it in quiet meditation for ten to fifteen minutes everyday? To act on the insights you receive? If you persist, you will put yourself on the path to achieving greater personal fulfillment and professional success.