By David Hegg
For several years between my graduate studies and my first ministry position, I was in the corporate world. Providing for my family while serving as a lay minister meant being immersed in the world of business. I owned and ran a small business, transitioned to a home office marketing position in a multi-state financial institution, and ended up as a sales manager for a national company.
Along the way I learned – often the hard way! – about what has come to be known as the “blame game.”
In sales I found that character and trust were the primary commodities good salespersons offered their clients. And perhaps the best way to gauge a salesperson’s character was watching how they responded when something went wrong. Anyone can cause a mess, but only the truly virtuous will stand up, admit their culpability, and shoulder the responsibility to clean it up. Admitting and fixing mistakes often shows more about you than do the mistakes themselves.
Of course, mistakes are a problem. As someone has said, to err is human but when the eraser wears out long before the pencil, we’re in big trouble. I’m not suggesting that mistakes should be overlooked as long as someone admits being wrong. I am suggesting that the only way to minimize future messes is to accept responsibility for our mistakes, admit our need to change, learn the right lessons from failure, and thereby become better equipped to solve the problems we face.
In a fascinating book entitled “Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me),” authors Carol Tarvis and Elliot Aronson chronicle the descent of our society into the chasm of blame shifting. Through example after example they describe a phenomenon we see displayed every day in our world.
No one seems to be the ones making the mistakes. We are running out of men and women who will admit their fair share of blame. In their place we are given an almost inexhaustible cast of talking heads who are only too eager to tell us that no one on their side did anything poorly, and the problem lies completely at the feet of their opponents.
Of course we see this happening daily in our political world. But even more frightening is the fact that it happens in our homes. Being in the business of training lives gives me a front-row seat in the theater of conflict as it rages in marriages and families. I have listened to countless married couples explain to me that their almost overwhelming problems are all to be blamed on their spouse.
“Sure our marriage is in shambles, but it is mostly because he/she did this or that.”
Occasionally, after one spouse is truly convicted of their own sinful behavior, sincere humility and brokenness begins to pour out of them. The first sign of authenticity in these matters is a painful, remorse-filled expression of personal responsibility that refuses to factor in whatever blame could rightly be shifted to their mate. When we come to honestly own our part in the mess, we turn the corner from perpetrator to problem solver.
The same principle is true at every level of society, and there’s a reason for that. Refusing to admit our part in the mess displays a heart of pride and deceit born out of a greater concern for reputation than results. We would rather win than succeed. We would rather hang on to the myth of our superiority than admit that, deep down, we’re to blame as much as our opponents. Our society is fast coming to believe that culpability is far worse than failure.
But such a view only compounds the problems we face by replacing our duty to others with the desire to protect self.
What we need are more and more men and women willing to attempt great things, admit when they’re wrong, and shoulder the responsibility of fixing the messes they create. Only then will our political system start to work again. Only then will our children learn the virtues of honesty, humility and hard work. Only then will we recover the necessary belief that proposals and slogans don’t solve problems. People solve problems. And it takes people with integrity, humility, creativity and a passionate desire to get things done, even if it means admitting and fixing their mistakes along the way.
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident.“Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.