Hold up the mirror and share in the blame

Like every writer, I’ve noticed that I come back to the same themes time and time again. Case in point: the idea of shifting the blame for wrongdoing onto another person. Both of my novels have featured married couples intent on pointing fingers at each other for why their marriage is a disaster. She’s a workaholic and hung up over a past lover. He’s always saying horrible things about me on his radio show. He cheated on me. She won’t meet my needs. The list goes on.

Each of the finger-pointers have contributed to the problem. None of them want to take responsibility for their own actions. It’s too painful.

Several years ago, I wrote a truly terrible novella about a new marriage destroyed by bitterness and guilt. Una, a young college student, becomes pregnant by Noah, a fellow student. She blames him for luring her into a sexual relationship; he’s the experienced one of the two, and she was naive enough not to see where their physical relationship was going. Blame #1.

She miscarries the baby and is devastated. Then Noah reveals that he had gotten her older sister pregnant the year before and she had an abortion. He had this weird idea that somehow Una’s pregnancy would “atone” for what he believes he did wrong. Now Una is really mad. In her grief, she irrationally blames him for the miscarriage. Blame #2.

Now she refuses to have anything to do with him. She resents his past sexual relationship with her sister. She resents that he withheld the truth from her. She resents all his attempts to reconcile with her. She resents every single thing about this man she once loved because obviously he’s to blame for every single thing wrong in their relationship. Blame #3, 4 & 5.

She leaves him.

If this sounds melodramatic, it is. (At the time, I thought it was brilliant!) It’s buried somewhere in my computer files, and I hope if my computer ever crashes, it crunches that novella to pieces.

But one part is true. Blaming another person destroys a relationship.

And we like it that way. If I can shift the blame onto another person, I’ll do it. It’s quick and easy and everyone else does it, so why shouldn’t I?

  • A student blames the professor for the bad grade on his paper.
  • A husband and wife blame each other for their endless arguments over sex, money or children.
  • A child blames his sibling for the mess in their room, the empty cookie jar or the broken picture frame.

It’s easy. But easy doesn’t equal right.

Sometimes the other person really is to blame and we’re the victim.

Often though, we’re not as much a passive victim as we’d like to believe. Is the professor really to blame for the “F” scribbled on the top of the term paper? Is the younger sister really to blame for her older sister’s actions? In my story, is Noah the only one in the wrong, or has Una played a part in this marital disaster?

Eventually, she comes to the realization that she, too, has been wrong. She’s wrong to shut herself off from him, to refuse to speak to him, to blame him for the miscarriage even when he could do nothing to prevent it. She holds up the mirror and is aghast at the amount of bitterness and resentment within her. Once she sees this, she has a choice to make. Either she can put down the mirror and forget what she saw, or she can take responsibility for her reactions to her husband and how she’s contributed to the breakdown of their marriage. A hard but necessary choice.

Cast the blame or share in it? Which would you choose?  

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6 thoughts on “Hold up the mirror and share in the blame

  1. Good point. Jesus said to take the plank out of our own eyes so we can see to take the speck out of another person’s eye. I agree with you. Our world would be better if we all did this. Thanks for the comments!

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    1. Agree-the world would be better if we stopped blaming others. But it’s so hard to do! Thanks for reading. 🙂

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  2. Thanks for your visits to my blog, Laura. This is a great discussion-inspiring post. Relationships are important in real life and fiction, but successful ones require effort from both parties, not finger pointing.If there’s a problem it’s likely both contributed to it. When I’m into a novel, I’m drawn by characters who are strong but realistic. The whiny ones that blame others for everything are hard to like, hard to care about. My first novel was about a woman who was responsible for the accidental death of her baby. She was driven into a depression that ultimately destroyed her marriage. That part was realistic enough, but she came across as too much of a victim. Although she blamed herself, she was still not someone readers would care about. That story is permanently relegated to the back of my closet!

    I have a theory that readers want to relate to main characters… to live the story vicariously through them… so they need positive qualities, personalities that may be flawed but are still strong, perhaps a take charge kind of person rather than a blaming one. Developing characters is always a challenge, isn’t it?

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    1. Definitely a challenge! I think most readers do want to live vicariously through the characters, which is why they’ve got to be sympathetic and/or people we can relate to. Recently, I’ve stopped reading several otherwise well-written novels because they didn’t have a single character that I cared about. Not one. Well-developed, yes. Complex, yes. Sympathetic? Nope.

      I’m afraid that some of my characters in this second novel are coming across as victims, so I’m having to rethink their motivations and unleash their inner desires. Soooo hard. Can I blame them for being difficult to work with?

      Thanks for reading!

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  3. So true. Our nature is basically selfish, which leads to blaming others, and it starts at an early age. You can see it clearly in kids as soon as they start talking. Unfortunately, most don’t grow out of that. All you have to do is look at the warning labels on various house-hold items. When a manufacturer of an iron has to tell people not to iron clothes while wearing them, you know we live in a society that doesn’t take individual responsibility seriously.

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    1. That’s true. Your comment about the iron made me think of the warning labels on coffee cups: caution, the beverage you are about to enjoy is hot! Whoever made it necessary for those warning labels on these things probably didn’t use their common sense, at the very least! Thanks for reading.

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