I have many odd quirks, and one quirk is that I can’t stand the theme of unjust accusation. That means I can’t read any book, or watch any movie or play, that deals with that subject. No Atonement, Othello, Oliver Twist, The Fugitive, The Shawshank Redemption, etc. A brilliant friend of mine just wrote a novel that looks fantastic, Scottsboro, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to read it yet -- because it's about the Scottsboro case! I just can’t bear to see someone unjustly accused.
I never thought about what this meant about my own character – until yesterday.
Something happened that raised the possibility that I might have screwed something up. I don’t think I did screw up, but my reaction gave me pause: at the mere hint of the possibility that I might have screwed up, I became furious, defensive, and combative.
I wanted to prove that I hadn’t done anything wrong, and to attack anyone who might suggest that I had.
In a work environment, I’ve trained myself to be better about this. A long time ago, when I started working, my father told me, “If you’re willing to accept blame, people will give you responsibility,” and I’ve found that to be absolutely true. Somehow, at work, I find this less difficult, but in my private life, I absolutely hate to be thought in the wrong, even about the smallest things.
My reaction, I see, is distinctly unhelpful. Instead of being defensive, I want to be open to correction. Instead of being angry, I want to be light-hearted. Instead of being belligerent, I want to be constructive.
As I learned in a work context, people are made anxious by free-floating blame that hasn’t settled. Once someone says, “I messed up,” “That was my fault,” or “I’m sorry,” everyone can relax, forgive, and move on. Getting angry or accusatory, though, makes things worse.
I need to remind myself of this more often. I don’t want to take the blame for things I didn’t do, but I do need to follow my Ninth Commandment to “Lighten up” (see left column). I’m not perfect, I do make mistakes, it’s not a big deal.
It's hard for me to remember this in the moment when I'm feeling unjustly accused. Still working on it.
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