A spirit of blame and accusation – exposed

This morning I found out that it’ll cost 100€ (about $140.00) to iron the kids’ flower girl dresses. I was shocked, then distressed, and my mind immediately searched for and found someone to blame – Michelle. How could this happen? It wasn’t me, and this whole thing is her idea anyway, so it has to be her. She didn’t think ahead. She did wrinkled the dresses by packing them too tight. She bought cheap dresses that require special handling. Etc. Of course I knew that it wasn’t her fault, and I told myself so. Story over, I thought.

So I got back to the hotel, and announced the huge problem; the dresses are going to cost 100€ just to iron them! Family, this is a dilemma – what should we do? Should we take them to the cleaners and pay 100€, or set aside 1/2 of one of our days and iron them ourselves (i.e. Michelle irons them)? My distress spread to my wife and the kids. Not only could they feel my distress, but I think they began to feel guilt and fear of their own. Bickering started, people snapping at one another, debating the best way to handle this crisis. Michelle felt bad, and i don’t think she knew why. She was out of sorts, mad at… something. After five minutes or so of this, I realized that I just had to bite the bullet, pay the money and get them ironed. there was no other choice. So I walked over and gave the dry-cleaner’s the go-ahead. They’ll be ready friday afternoon, just in time.

I got to thinking about exactly why I had dumped that on Michelle and the kids. It brought me back to some thoughts and prayers from yesterday. I realized that I have been blaming and subtly accusing Michelle this entire trip for a whole myriad of things; plans falling through, unpleasant conditions, unexpected expenditures (and the hefty price tag of the trip in general), the kids’ behavior, and the list goes on (some of these I am realizing as I write!). I thought about why I am blaming and how it’s making me (and others) feel. Well, how it makes me feel is bad. I’m sure it makes my family feel bad too. I became aware of the fact that this have been going on for years, probably my whole life. I was thinking and praying about this in the context of leadership. My coach Phil taught me that there’s a natural and unavoidable progression to leadership; you must first lead yourself, then you can begin to lead your family, and then ultimately you may be prepared to lead others; the first two steps are inescapable prerequisites to the third. Well, I’m special – I’ve always wanted to jump right to leading others – great multitudes, really. Adoring fans. As for the family, they should of course follow me unquestioningly, even if I don’t lead myself. They can join the fans.

Over the past two weeks I re-listened to the Abinger Institute’s “Leadership and Self-Deception” during longer drives – an amazing, paradigm-shifting audio. It’s roughly about self deception/justification and it’s devastating consequences in the workplace and in life in general. At one point in the fictional story, Bud (the principle senior instructor type character) tells a tale of his early years as a young, ambitious lawyer. He was assigned the task of researching mobile home law for a large and important client. The work took him weeks, and when he was finished, he was proud of his work and his boss was pleased – the findings were favorable to their client. A month or so later, while reviewing the case, his boss asked him offhandedly “did you check the pockets in the back of the law books” (where the latest updates to the laws are kept, apparently)? He had not. Together, they ran to the law library, checked the pockets, and discovered to their horror that the law had in fact changed, dramatically – the results were that the findings were the opposite of the original findings, and their client was heading straight into a PR and legal nightmare. His boss, Cindy, was at the time a mere 4 years from consideration for full partnership in the law firm. A mistake of this significance at this point in her career could have real consequences for her potential partnership. She got on the phone with the senior partners while Bud listened. What she said was simple: “I made a mistake about the mobile home law, and we need to contact the client ASAP.” Absolutely no mention of Bud; no blaming this new, inexperienced lawyer, no tossing him under the bus, no nothing. Full accountability and responsibility. Bud said that from that point on, he would have ran through brick walls for Cindy (i.e. he was fiercely loyal to her). I swallowed hard. I knew as I listened to the audio that I would have found a way to blame Bud, probably off-handedly and subtly, but I would have tossed him under the bus somehow. Why not? It was his fault. If I didn’t, I would be all puffed up inside, thinking what a hero I am for taking his bullet. But Cindy was being a real leader. When questioned by Bud, she acknowledged his fault, but said that, as his manager, at several points she had thought of asking him to check the pockets since he was inexperienced, but she had not. She took full responsibility because Bud was her responsibility.

It was this story that brought about my meditations on blame and responsibility. I realize that I’ve not been a real leader like Cindy. I have not earned fierce loyalty from my family. Hell, in many ways, I have not taken responsibility for them. The love they have for me is really a testament to their goodness and God’s mercy.

Blame. Adam and Eve at the fruit. Eve blamed it on the serpent, Adam blamed it on Eve. What good comes from blaming others? I’m serious – is there any good that comes from it, even when it’s true? What would have happened if Adam (or Eve) had taken full responsibility? What would my life and my family life look like if were to take full responsibility for all of my thoughts, feelings and actions?

So I’m asking myself; “Can I take responsibility for Michelle as her husband? Can I take responsibility for my kids? As the head of my family, can I take full responsibility? Am I up to the task? Do I have what it takes? Heres’ the real question, I think – “am I even willing?” Crap. And thank you, Lord.

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