The Blame Game
If you’re at all clued in to what’s happening in the music scene at the moment, you’ll know that Kanye West recently released a new single, Blame Game - notable not only for Chris Rock’s 2 minute skit at the end of the track, and John Legend’s smooth vocal hook, but how it highlights the ‘compensation culture’ of the 21st century. Now, I’m not saying this profound reading was intended by Mr West when he set out to record it, but it has definitely got me thinking.
Blame is not a new concept, nor a modern defense mechanism developed as a reaction to intrusive, investigative journalism. We all do it, and as humans have done it, for millennia. As children, we blamed others when our parents told us off; X made me do it, Y got away with it. As teenagers, we blamed those same parents with the rationale that they “didn’t understand us”. Even in relationships, although the mantra of “it’s not you, it’s me” has become a nauseating cliché, hardly anyone actually means it. How often do we openly admit that it was our fault when something goes wrong? Let’s be honest: very rarely.
I have no qualms about acknowledging that I am my harshest critic. I have been cursed with the incredible ability to erode any self-worth or pride by focusing on the minute negatives going on in my life, rather than the bigger picture. Everything going well in your relationship? Let’s concentrate on how much weight you’ve put on. Just got a promotion? I think the much more important issue is why you’re single. I’m not saying that self-scrutiny is a bad thing. It can motivate you to improve situations, to fix things that are broken, and create goals to aim towards. What I will say is that it is exhausting.
Recently, circumstances have prompted me to take a long, hard look at myself, at patterns of behaviour that stem back to childhood. If what psychologists say is true, that the first step to changing is realization and acceptance, then what I’ve discovered is potentially a game-changer. I have a self-destruct button, and I like to push it. Whether this is a reaction that stems from being a bit of a Drama Queen (who, moi?); injecting situations with added excitement and twists for entertainment, or if it’s simply a case of dropping the ball when the exhaustion of self-criticism gets too much, is still something I’m trying to figure out. But what I do know is that it’s not a recent development. That button’s existed for a long time, and hasn’t lost any of its appeal. As a child, 90% of the time I was well-behaved. I was conditioned by my parents to be polite, agreeable, and inquisitive - and for the most part, I was. Except those characteristics aren’t usually the ones that stick in people’s minds. It was that 10% Hyde to my Jekyll - the disobedience, the pleasure gained in flouting the rules, that got me into trouble, and to a large extent shaped what people (especially horrified parents) thought of me. At school it was no different. While for two years I was academic excellence personified, this got rather boring, and made me miserable. Luckily, then, that the big, red, self-destruct button was on hand to press - God forbid I ever achieve my grades with ease and admiration. Within a summer - turning 13 may or may not have had something to do with it, but let’s not start blaming hormones - I morphed into someone that purposefully set out to break any rule or accepted code of conduct out there. I started answering back to teachers, smoking on school grounds, drinking underage, and amassing a pretty impressive collection of detention slips. None of which I’m particularly proud of now. Did it make me any happier? No. The constant contradiction of who I knew I really was compared to how I was behaving drained me, and I finished school with no real friends or sense of direction.
Perhaps part of the problem is that I have an addictive personality. (In the sense that I become addicted very easily to things, not that I’m personally so scintillating that people become addicted to me.) But isn’t that just a blaming tool as well? Can you really explain your behaviour by sweeping it under a rug of a supposed chemical imbalance? I don’t believe so. Maybe the more accurate term is that I am ‘habitually addictive’ as a person; that through years of getting kicks out of doing something I’m not supposed to I have developed a habit. Understandably, this has been quite a hindrance in any situation that requires you to follow the rules.
A wake-up call came in the shape of a drunken friend on a night out, some years ago. Putting her arm around me and looking blearily into my eyes, she slurred: “you live your life like a warning to others”. It may have been said in inebriated jest, but it struck a chord. This soap opera that I’d turned my life into, through strings of failed relationships and let-downs, was just that - public entertainment. I realised that I could spin a situation in my favour, blame others for my failure, but at the end of the day, who is the common denominator? But self-hatred and blame is more destructive than passing it off on third parties. I recognize it needs to be a healthy balance. There’s unlikely to ever be someone following you around, foiling all your plans and good intentions. Most failure is down to you - your choices, your actions, your mindset. I’m in the process of developing that habit of addiction to rule-breaking into a habit of addiction to courage. To admit when I fail it’s down to me, but to also initiate righting myself. If I don’t, all I’m doing is destroying, rather than creating. It might be “two steps forward, one step back”, but at least it’s heading in a positive direction.
Do you play the Blame Game?