A Lesson for Life, Love, & Politics

It is so easy to blame others when things in our life go awry. It is even easier to blame others when the ill is specifically their fault.

Doing this is quite justifiable. I quite understand it. Yet it is wrong. And not only wrong, but damaging. And, in my first-ever self-help blog post, I shall at least attempt explain why I feel this to be the case, and why, if someone has done you wrong, then you have no-one to blame but yourself. Always. No exceptions. As strange as it may seem, if someone has wronged you, I say blame yourself.

This seems somewhat counterintuitive. After all, if someone has wronged you, and committed an act of evil against you, why ought you blame yourself?

In answering this, I wish to share something that is, in all seriousness, probably the greatest lesson I have ever learned. One that has profoundly affected how I approach not only my political career, but indeed all aspects of my life. It is a lesson that has stayed with me for over 15 years, and one I hope might perhaps be of use (and one I may not always follow, but I certainly do try to).

This is a lesson that for me applies to politics, to friendship, to love, and to life.

As many of you would know, I am involved with the National Organisation of Russian Scouts (heh, I just realised I’m wearing a NORS shirt. Coincidence win, hey?). Anyway, back when I would have been in my early teens, I was a Patrol Leader. Now, when I was younger, I was even more of an annoying git than I am now. One summer camp, I had a bunch of new kids in my patrol, unused to the ways of scouting, and they just wouldn’t do what they needed to do. I would ask – order in fact – them to do something, and they refused. Even the most basic things, they would not do. Now, I stress, I was fully in the right – there was no question of this – yet they would not do it. So, (obviously) I complained bitterly to my leaders. After all, I was in a position of leadership, of authority, they had to listen to me. And because they did not, they were clearly flawed human beings. I genuinely began to despise them; it was clearly their fault.

One morning, Mark (who was the Senior Patrol Leader), woke up me sometime before sunrise, and took me on a walk to the river – to ‘watch the sun rise’. Obviously I complained bitterly about the people in my patrol, and how they wouldn’t do what they were meant to. I mean, this was unconsiable! I was clearly doing what was right and proper, and they were not listening!

Mark bluntly told me that it was my fault. How could this be, I indignantly responded. I did everything right. My behavior was blameless.

Mark’s response was that the fact I was in the right was irrelevant. That was not what leadership was about. It is very easy to get someone predisposed to listen to you to do what you want, or to get angels to do the right thing. That isn’t leadership. Leadership is about getting people who weren’t angels to do the right thing. It is about convincing someone who isn’t your natural supporter to do what you want. Rather than blaming the people in my patrol for not doing the right thing, instead, I should blame myself for not having the ability to be able to do so.

Blame myself for not having the ability to make them do what was required.

It was only some time later that I truly understood the meaning of these words.

We have within us the power and the ability to be able to influence others, yet we so often simply expect them to do the right thing for no reason. Such an approach is intrinsically flawed. People are not angels. They require you to present yourself in such a way as to respond accordingly. And the implications of this go far, far, far beyond a children’s scout camp.

Being a realist, I recognise that Russian Scouts is perhaps not the most easily-relatable situation for normal people, so, allow me to give a few other examples.

How often do we say after an election loss “how could the voters have been so stupid?” This infuriates me more than anything else; if the voters really are that stupid, what does it say about us that we couldn’t get them to vote the right way? I mean, think about it. How can you say in the same sentence that people are idiots, and that you couldn’t get them to do what you want; it defies logic. In reality, as any decent political operative knows, the fault lies not with the voters: it lies with us. We failed to show them why they should vote for us. The fault was ours.

To continue. How often, after an act of political betrayal, do we say “what a cad this person is”, and yet never stop to think of how, had we acted differently, we might have prevented the betrayal from occurring. I have sat in on so many political meetings condemning individuals for their actions, where no-one was willing to even countenance the possibility that their own mishandling was responsible. The fault lies not with Brutus, rather, it lies with us for taking the steps to ensure another outcome. Because treachery is always preventable.

We can even extend this to the personal. How many times have people complained to me that their significant other cheated on them (to simply use one random example), without stopping to think what actions of theirs would have triggered this. As much as the other person may be a scoundrel, we nevertheless put them in a position where they choose to take such actions.

All our negative experiences with other people ‘acting badly’ are ultimately preventable. Even if it is only one action out of an infinite number of possibilities that may have prevented them, that one action is still out there. The question is finding it. And at times, perhaps often, the ‘solution’ might not be worth it. The cost may exceed the benefit 100 fold. But know that the solution is always there.

The question is, however, what do we do after the failure. If we simply blame the other, then we learn nothing from the experience. It is only by humbling ourselves (and believe me, for me especially, this really, really ain’t easy), and reflecting on what we did wrong, that we can truly improve in the future.
We are all flawed beings. Rather than blaming others, we should blame ourselves.

I look back at all my failures with other people – and believe me there are many – and realise they were caused not by them, but rather, by a litany of errors on my part. And I mean this. Even the worst things that have transpired to me because of others, had I acted differently, I could have prevented. And I feel great shame for it. Yet, it is only by recognising this that I have the ability to choose to alter my behavior the next time this comes around.

I do not like (and indeed am not qualified for) giving advice on a blog. Yet, on this occasion, I shall attempt to give some anyway. And the greatest advice I can give anyon is this: the next time someone wrongs you, do not blame them. Rather, as hard as it may be for you, turn your attention to what you could have done to prevent it.

As in politics, as in love, as in life.

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8 Responses to “A Lesson for Life, Love, & Politics”

  1. Cait Says:

    Really, Tim? THIS is the best piece of advice you have received in your entire life? It is totally non-universal. These things are dependent upon the situation. I can’t think of anyone in history (with the exception of your scout leader) who can agree. What about casuistry?

    Even if you are more traditional in your views (ethics dictating actions, rather than the other way around.. sort of), you have to look in the context. “As in politics, as in love, as in life.” Even applied ethics is taylored for a specific setting (i.e. environmental, busiess). I guess I don’t have a problem with your theory, but rather your confidence in it. By the way, I think a lot of people are genually stupid enough to vote the wrong way, dispite all exhausted effors from the “good” campaign. Sometimes, shit happens and it’s no one’s fault. The stars just align that way. Plus, try making this argument to someone who has been cheated on. I guess what I’m trying to say is there is there is no such thing as a rule that is as applicable and all-encompassing as you say there is, and even if there were, it’s all subjective, anyway.

    All that probably just made sense in my head, but I’m posting it anyway =)

  2. LMC Says:

    I am predisposed to side with Tim, but I must agree with Cait on this one. I do not want to be overly religious, but the main example that comes to my mind is the life of Christ.

    Through out His life, He was screwed over several times. He endured hardships and back-stabbings because it was His task at hand. He chose to. But to say it was His fault? No. In the New Testament, He told Christians that they would be screwed over for His sake.

    I think of the apostles who were martyred. Yes, they willingly chose their paths to execution, many of them. But to say it was their own fault? No. They were following authority just as you followed authority as a scout, and your subordinates refused to comply.

  3. Ben Says:

    I think this post shows that you are too hard on yourself Tim. If that Mark character tried to pull a guilt trip on me, it would have been his last. There’s nothing wrong with convictions – but false guilt? No way.

  4. David Archer Says:

    “We cannot do without the scapegoat. His existence is a biological necessity for each one of us. Someone must pay the price of our faults and our failings. If we were to think of ourselves as solely responsible, what complications, what additional tortures this would involve. To be given a clear conscience is all that we ask, and the scapegoat does this for us.

    Blaming ourselves for everything requires a superhuman effort. When we do this, however, we sense that we are drawing near to the truth. Alas, this makes us, not more modest, but more proud.”

    E.M. Cioran, Cahiers 1957-72

  5. motion29 Says:

    someone should email this to Lawerence Springboard.

  6. libramoon Says:

    I hope you don’t mind that I sent this post to the Seers and Seekers Yahoo group:

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/seerseeker/

  7. RCF Says:

    uh sorry to say guys but Time is 100% correct.
    Tim is talking about Leadership. Leadership is using your influence to make someone who would not normally want to do something, do it willingly.
    Spend any time in any sort of military command (11 years and counting) and you would understand this. Ethics and martydom don’t really come into it.

  8. LMC Says:

    No, RCF, Tim isn’t talking JUST about leadership. He extended the point to personal relationships as well:

    “We can even extend this to the personal. How many times have people complained to me that their significant other cheated on them (to simply use one random example), without stopping to think what actions of theirs would have triggered this. As much as the other person may be a scoundrel, we nevertheless put them in a position where they choose to take such actions.
    All our negative experiences with other people ‘acting badly’ are ultimately preventable.”

    And this is mostly where I disagree with him. Whatever the personal relationship may be (romantic, friendship, or family), shit happens, regardless of how hard we try to avoid it. In many ways, relationship problems become our increase, because we learn from them.

    Tim wasn’t just talking about leadership/ military service. He brought it into people’s personal lives. And in that way, he isn’t 100% correct.

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