When I read this post http://blogs.hbr.org/bregman/2013/04/why-you-should-take-the-blame.html “Why You Should Take The Blame” from Peter Bergman, I was reminded of a “significant emotional event” in my life. First a bit of background about me; I attended a Catholic elementary school and the nuns who ran the place did so with an iron fist. Second there was not much money for simple luxuries in my house, these included haircuts at a beauty parlor rather than sitting on a stool in the kitchen with a bowl on my head waiting for my mother to make another disaster of my hair — the first disaster was when she thought she could thin it like they did at the beauty parlor just by snipping with her sewing shears at various lengths. Picture me having to wear a knit cap to school for weeks waiting for my hair to grow out. So with that in mind, this story will make a bit more sense.
Every Thursday we had choir practice. Our whole class marched across the street to the church and into the balcony where we stood in pre-arranged formation around the organ. When you assemble thirty plus fifth graders and expect them to pay complete attention to their hymnals things happen. What happened this particular day was an astounding silent spit ball fight between the boys standing in rows 3 through 5. I was just an innocent bystander minding my own business singing away in row 4, well lip syncing really as that was all I was allowed by the nuns to do. As spit balls began to whiz by my head ultimately some missed their row 5 mark and landed in my lap. I felt compelled to return them to their original creators. I’m here to tell you that Sister Theresa Cecile did have eyes in the back of her head. While she was playing the organ she somehow knew that there was pandemonium happening behind her back. Or maybe it was the spit ball leavings on the balcony floor that gave her the clue. In either case, once we all marched back across the street we were lined up in formation and asked to raise our hands if we had participated in this most unholy event in the church under the eyes of God. Now being the very honest young girl that I was (notice I use past tense here) I of course raised my hand.
All those with unraised hands were allowed back in their seats while the rest of us received a lecture and instruction to remain behind after class that day. When the bell rang at 3:00 p.m. I quickly gathered my books and ran out the front door. I did not think I would be missed nor did I think that I should be punished after all I really was just an innocent bystander. Besides, I had a very important after school engagement. On this rare occasion, my mother had made me an appointment with a friend of hers who was a hair stylist. I was finally going to get that hair style that I was sure would turn me from Tom boy into ravishing 5th grade beauty queen. As I sat in the wondrous chair gazing into the mirror with the star encrusted cape over my shoulders waiting for the first snip, the phone rang. My mother was calling from work to tell me that Sister Theresa Cecile had phoned her and I was to return to school immediately — that meant no shampoo, no snip, no fancy rollers, I was doomed to remain a Tom boy. Devastated I trudged back to school and sat at my desk being punished with an unruly group of 5th grade boys. We were required to make and hurl spit balls at each other for an hour and then had to not only clean up that mess but also wash down all of the blackboards.
If you are wondering what life lesson I learned from this event, it was that in Bergman’s example don’t take the blame for participating in kicking the dog if all you did was put the poor dog back in his place. I know that this is a bit counter to the point he makes in his post and I do certainly think we should step forward and take responsibility for our actions. However, I also believe that taking the responsibility for the actions of others is seldom the right thing to do for either yourself or them. I don’t believe in pointing the finger of blame. You can count on me to say I am sorry for those things that I am responsible for and learn from the experience, but if I didn’t kick the dog I ain’t gonna step forward and take the blame. I won’t rat you out, but you’d better own up to your shame or you won’t be on my team for long.
And thus another life lesson learned from a 5th grade wanna be beauty queen.