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Here are some thoughts on blame and parenting.

Blaming Your Parents vs Taking Responsibility?

This Blame Thing's Got To Go

You Have An Ugly Voice

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Blaming your parents vs taking responsibility?

Someone once told me, in a disapproving tone, that her ex-boyfriend still blames his father. When I suggested the brain is wired for life in the childhood years, she said, "Yeah, but at some point you have to take responsibility..."

So I wonder, at what point is that?

I have asked people this question. They have answered things like: "When he is 18," or "when he moves away from home."

But I believe that would be like saying a person is responsible for suddenly learning and speaking a foreign language at some arbitrary point in their lives. -- How long can you "blame" your parents for teaching you Spanish, for raising you in a Spanish speaking, Catholic culture? The more important question is, how long does the influence last?

But emotional and psychological imprinting is worse than teaching a language. With Spanish you can more easily translate from one language to another. You can go to lots of schools, read lots of books. Language training is widely available. No one feels skeptical when you say you want to learn another language. People encourage it in fact. But what if you said you wanted to learn a new language called the language of health or of life or of cooperation or of understanding, peace and conflict resolution?

Where would you go to immerse yourself in a culture where they spoke such a language? Who would you practice with day to day? What cable tv station could you turn to?

And when you learn a foreign language you don't get rejected by your friends and family. You don't get judged. You don't have to move far away from them to practice (although that does help). And with a foreign language you can easily switch from one to the other. You can even blend them into one sentence. They are compatible and harmonious, not in opposition to each other like feelings of optimism and pessimism or encouragement and discouragement or high versus low self-esteem, or the languages of judging someone or helping them; helping them or hurting them.

Also, the child is learning emotional lessons faster than language lessons because his non-verbal areas of the brain develop first. So the deepest imprints are on the emotional level-- for example whether the child feels safe or scared-- the most basic source of later security or insecurity. You can scare an infant by leaving it alone, by failing to respond to its cries or by hitting it but you can't frighten it by saying in a neutral tone, "you are going to hell if you do that."

When does your parents' effect on your self-esteem, your overall outlook on life disappear? I suspect never. I agree that blaming your parents does not solve your problems. But neither does pretending that their influence magically disappears at some arbitrary point in your life. And neither does ignoring cause and effect relationships.

To help children of the future we must base our efforts on reality--the reality that the influence of the parents lasts a lifetime.


You Have an Ugly Voice

Here is a story which suggests a mother is not to blame when she emotionally damages her daughter by telling her to shut up because she has an ugly voice.


There was a woman who was intelligent and had a very good heart. She had a daughter whom she adored and loved very much. One night she came home from a very bad day at work, tired, full of emotional tension, and with a terrible headache.

She wanted peace and quiet, but her daughter was singing and jumping happily. The daughter was unaware of how her mother was feeling; she was in her own world, in her own dream. She felt so wonderful, and she was jumping and singing louder and louder, expressing her joy and her love. She was singing so loud that it made her mother's headache even worse, and at a certain moment, the mother lost control.

Angrily she looked at her beautiful little girl and said, "Shut up! You have an ugly voice. Can you just shut up!? " The truth is that the mother's tolerance for any noise was nonexistent; it was not that the little girl's voice was ugly.

But the daughter believed what her mother said, and in that moment her belief about her own voice changed forever. After that she no longer sang, because she believed her voice was ugly and would bother anyone who heard it. She became shy at school, and if she was asked to sing, she refused. Even speaking to others became difficult for her.

Everything changed in the little girl because of her new feelings about herself and others. She believed she must repress her emotions in order to be accepted and loved.

This little girl grew up, and even though she had a beautiful voice, she never sang again. She developed a whole complex from one spell. This spell was cast upon her by the one who loved her the most: her own mother.

Her mother didn't notice what she did with her word. She didn't notice that she used black magic and put a spell on her daughter. She didn't know the power of her word, and therefore she isn't to blame.

Adapted from "The Four Agreements"

Comments on This Story


This quote reminds of the poem by Pamela Sackett called "This Blame Thing's Got To Go"

Please read that poem. Pamela raises some important questions. For example, when someone has been hurt, should we try to identify the cause of the pain? Or should we tell the person to stop complaining? And tell them that everyone is in pain and that's just how things are? Or should we tell them that the person who hurt them didn't mean to hurt them or as the above quote suggests? In other words, should we tell them that if the person who caused the pain didn't know they caused it, then we shouldn't blame them?

This seems a bit to me like saying if someone shoots an arrow into the bushes on the other side of the river and it happens to hit someone, we shouldn't blame the person who shot the arrow.

My question is, what is best for society? Is it better to tell the person who got hit with the arrow to stop complaining and to tell them not to blame the person who shot the arrow since they didn't know they were going to cause someone pain? Or is it best to try to identify who shot the arrow, inform them of the pain and damage they caused and perhaps hold them at least partially responsible?

If the person who was hit with the arrow goes to the hospital and pays $10,000 for treatement, should the person who shot the arrow pay for some or all of that amount?

What if the person shooting the arrows was warned that there might be people on the other side of the river? Would that make a difference?

An important question socially is, what is most likely to stop people from shooting arrows into the bushes on the other side of the river?

I suspect that if the people who shoot the arrows also feel some pain, they will be less likely to keep shooting arrows where they can't see where they go. And they will be more likely to warn other people not to shoot arrows into bushes.

But what kind of pain is the best for getting someone to voluntarily stop shooting arrows into bushes? I suspect that it would be some combination of sadness, empathy and guilt. For example, let's say that a father accidently shot his own son or daughter. It is likely he would feel very sad. He would probably feel empathy and also guilty. He might tell his neighbors, "Be very careful when you shoot arrows. I hit my own son one day. I don't want you to feel the pain I feel from doing that."

I also suspect that some formal education would help. For example, if everyone were taught how dangerous it was to shoot arrows into bushes people might be less likely to do it.

Another option is to make it illegal to shoot arrows into bushes and to threaten people with fines or jail and then punish them if they are ever caught shooting an arrow into a bush.

But there are problems with making it illegal. What happens if there is no one there to see them? What if no one can prove that they are the one who shot the arrow? What if they are too afraid of getting punished to admit that they are the responsible? Or what if there is a court case and they would prefer to pay a lawyer a lot of money to convince the judge and jury they didn't to it or that there is not enough evidence to find them guilty?

So what is the best way to stop people from doing things which hurt others? Do we "blame" them, or don't we? And what does it mean to blame someone exactly?

I believe we need to identify cause and effect. I believe we need to inform and educate people. And I believe we need to try to help them feel as non-defensive as possible when they hurt someone else. In other words, I believe we need to help them feel unafraid of being punished, since if they are afraid of being punished they will be much less likely to admit what they did or to feel any empathy for the person they hurt.

xxx something about the original quote being irresponsible....and how it doesnt help the person understand how they got shot or where the arrow came from.