Shattuck: The blame game

By Ryan Shattuck

I like to blame other people — but that’s not my fault.

Blaming other people is one of my favorite pastimes. For example, I am only 5-foot-9 — I blame my parents. I am not that wealthy — I blame the economy. I am not that intelligent — I blame the U. I’m not a good writer — I blame The Daily Utah Chronicle. I have a slow computer — I blame Apple Inc. I suffer from prosopagnosia — I blame people with ugly faces.

I like to blame other people, and other people like to blame me. Everyone likes to blame everyone else, and, in doing so, the world continues to quirkily gyrate along its crooked axis. Blaming others is as American as apple pie, baseball, rock ‘n’ roll music and not voting. We are a nation full of blamers — and we hope someone else will take the fall.

A recent CBS News/The New York Times poll showed that 81 percent of respondents said they believe “things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track.” When asked how the country compares to how it was five years ago, 75 percent felt that America is “worse off.”

It was pointed out in the survey, which was released on The New York Times’ website, that “Americans are more dissatisfied with the country’s direction than at any time since (the poll’s inception) in the early 1990s.” It is worthwhile to note that the 81 percent of dissatisfied respondents cuts across all demographics — male, female, black, white, Republican and Democrat.

The results, although depressing, are not terribly shocking. At the very least, this poll made me think about how blame is assigned and the reasons why people feel dissatisfied. How many of us have been frustrated with the Iraq War for more than half a decade? Who among us has been affected by the sluggish economy? Lives have been lost, jobs have been lost, and homes have been lost. It’s enough to make one hide under the covers, weep while watching the news and attempt to find solace in a large bag of Cheetos — or at least until one’s home is foreclosed.

2008 began in such a dismal state of disrepair that until February of this year, people couldn’t even drown their sorrows by watching good television because of the writers’ strike. Society’s a mess, the economy’s in shambles and our foreign policy is a wreck. Thus we are justified in yelling to no one in particular, “Heads will roll! A price must be paid! Someone must be blamed!”

I propose we start by blaming ourselves.

Everybody knows somebody who enjoys playing the victim. A friend who doesn’t receive a promotion at work and thus blames the economy. A family member who isn’t accepted into college, prompting the family member to cite racism. A co-worker who tirelessly reminds everyone else of how difficult life was while surviving the Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide, the Darfur Conflict, the Bosnian ethnic cleansing and the Salem Witch Trials — all of which he or she claims to have experienced. Do we know people who speak this way? Or worse — are we these people?

I should clarify by stating that legitimate problems deserve legitimate attention. Racism, sexism and homophobia still exist in our world. Single mothers, the homeless, the mentally disabled and war veterans still need our help. Those with cancer, AIDS and other potentially fatal diseases still deserve our empathy.

But are there some of us — whose troubles pale in comparison with those of others — who still blame everyone from the government to our family for our problems? How many of us are competent and capable and yet demand a handout delivered on a doily?

On a scale from one to 10, with one being the systematic slaughter of thousands of innocent people and 10 being the systematic slaughter of millions of innocent people, the tragedy of my life most likely falls somewhere between a box of rainbows and a gift basket of marshmallows.

I confess that I’ve blamed others for my own personal problems in the past, something of which I’m not proud. Like other people in society, I’ve gone through depression. I’ve been unemployed. I’ve gone for periods of time where I didn’t communicate with my family, and I’ve been known to dabble in ostracism, alienation and loneliness. Nevertheless, I realize that my trivial problems do not compare to the mammoth-sized problems of others, and I consciously try to avoid blaming others for my own transgressions.

The 81 percent of Americans who believe that “things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track” have many legitimate reasons to believe this. I do believe, however, that although we cannot control every aspect of society, the government and the economy, we can certainly take more ownership over our lives. We have the freedom to choose our lives, our happiness and our attitudes. And even if that’s not true, we can at least choose whether we want a tall, grande, venti or super-sized portion of tragedy.

And for those who might not agree, don’t blame me — it’s not my fault.

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