Past blame or “whose fault it is” and on to solutions


Quick summary: whose fault is it? This question is a big one from governmental to family politics. How does assigning fault help in the solution? The most common argument is that “if people know that they were wrong than they will not make the same choice again in the future.” the problem with this logic arrives when the ‘fault’ was either an accident or the fault was do to probability not landing in a person’s favor. To be more specific, accidents happen and life is not predictable – random things occur. Though it is important to find fault in select incidences (ex. who was the criminal in this case), the act of assigning fault simply delays the acquisition of a solution in many cases. What is the point? – perhaps solutions are more important than assigning blame, and even in those instances were fault needs to be assigned to support justice we should not loose site of creating solutions.

The purpose of this blog post is do one simple thing… offer an alternative perspective on the widely held notion that assigning fault is an integral part of the solution process.

Family Scenario –

Someone left the garden hose on 5 hours ago and as you stepped out the front door to go to you meeting and your foot finds itself in mud past your ankle… you have twenty minutes till you meeting which is 15 minutes away. You have three kids all over 12 and a partner… what do you do?

Answer 1 – you spend time figuring out who left the hose on… you then assign fault along with some form of punishment (either a verbal reprimand or a loss of privilege) … you are now flustered as you have 10 minutes to drive a distance which will take you 15 minutes… the added anxiety makes it difficult for you to remember were your other shoes are… you find your clean shoes and put them on and leave for your meeting.

Answer 2 – you change your shoes in 2 minutes and leave for your meeting with time to spare.

Political Scenario – the literacy rates in the county drop and teenage unwanted pregnancies, drug use, and violence increase… what do you do?

Answer one – you look for ‘miss use’ of the budget to assign fault for the shortages in education budgets… you blame the opposing parties liberal or conservative views for the increase in unwanted behaviors… you bring attention back to former bills or positions that were not put into place and suggest that the problem would not have happened if this liberal or conservative bill had been passed… you attack the opposing party with personal attacks while suggesting that the fault is that the politician is too liberal or too conservative… you then start working on solutions with both sides offended and polarized.

Answer 2 – you start looking at what is going well in the school system… you look at solutions that are working… you begin creating solution that both parties are in agreement with… you implement the solution of not choosing to work with the politicians, whether liberal or conservative, that are going to waste your time with the blame game.

Learn from your mistakes – It is important that we do not repeat a mistake assuming that we have a choice in the matter. When someone is given constructive feedback he or she can choose to behave differently in the future.

  • Accidents don’t tend to be influenced much by education of constructive feedback… “Next time don’t trip, stub your toes and break my vase.”
  • Chance or probability means that sometimes things happen that were unlikely to happen. Again fault along with constructive feedback aren’t going to help much… “you should remember not to put you boat in the water because we know now that it could get hit by a tsunami.”


Behavioral modification – the punishment or the reward has to be delivered relatively quickly following the behavior in order to affect that future use of that behavior. This means that if you spank a child an hour after he peed on the carpet the child is unlikely to associate the spanking with the peeing… behavior change is unlikely.

  • Assigning fault for a behavior that happened in the past is perhaps functional for educational and justice reason, but it is relatively ineffective at shaping behavior.


You are mostly delaying – Ultimately a solution is going to make you feel better… assigning fault is mostly just delaying the acquisition of a solution… it is often a waste of physical, cognitive and emotional energy.


If some one pushes you into the tiger exhibit at the zoo you could spend time figuring out who’s fault it is… but ultimately you need to do the work to get out of the that tiger cage.


It might not be your fault… but it would be wise of you to help in creating the solution.


William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.
William Hambleton Bishop
William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

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