Currently, I am quite busy writing a book on fear and anxiety, called ‘Be not afraid’. In my head, it’s a sort of follow-up to my book on happiness, called Happy Talk. Whether the new book actually ever gets published will be up to others. I can but hope.
The intention is to look at general fears that are around in society at the moment, things like fear of violence, economic collapse, ecological disaster and those fears that particularly hit us as individuals like fear of a lack of worth, isolation and embarrassment, fear of growing old, illness and death. There’s also a chapter on fear in the Bible and the most frequent phrase ‘Be not afraid’.
One of the things that I’ve picked up on is the anxiety created by our society’s ‘blame culture’. I feel to me as though this has become toxically pervasive. Its roots appear to lie in the increasing individualism that we are experiencing that focuses so much attention on ‘me’ and ‘my’: my wants, my happiness, my rights, and the growing willingness to go to the law to claim compensation for someone’s mistakes.
Blame is a protection ploy – protecting me from getting the blame by pointing to someone else, usually, it’s actually the wrong person. Blaming someone else seeks to get us off the hook. The bad workman blames his tools, the employees blame the managers, the salesman blames the customer. It’s a contagious virus. In a company, someone starts blaming someone else for mistakes made and gradually others join in over totally unrelated matters until a whole culture of blame is established. It undermines trust, diminishes efficiency, breaks down a sense of teamwork, and stifles innovative creativity. If mistakes always end up with some form of retribution people fear making mistakes, don’t own up to them, blame others. But everyone makes mistakes, and everyone can learn from them. A learning and forgiving culture undermines a blame culture.
How easy it is even for congregations to harbour a blame culture. Church numbers are in decline – it must be the vicar’s fault, or the bishop’s, or the general assembly. Three children have stopped coming to Sunday school – it must be the new Sunday school teacher’s fault. The hall was left in a mess last week – let’s blame the youth club.
We need to distinguish between being blamed and being accountable. Taking responsibility for my actions, including my mistakes, is a willingness to be accountable. That’s very different from blame. I don’t find Jesus blaming people. What the Gospel speaks about is learning and forgiveness and transformation. These are what should be found in a community of trust and love – a church.
I’ll have to make sure that if the book does not get published I don’t blame anyone else but me.
*Written by John Cox – April 2018*