The Blame game

The Blame game

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Oct 01, 2006

In response to a myriad of problems confronting people today, there is a widespread and insidious tendency to blame others. The tendency to fan the flames of blame is so pervasive that it directly and indirectly affects everyone who is a member of the veterinary profession.

Consider the following examples of titles of articles written for our profession:

  • "Dog's vision impaired; client blames Dr. Y"1
  • "Who's to blame for inappropriate use of drugs?"2
  • "Why are veterinarians taking the blame (for misuse of antibiotics)?"3
  • "Liability for animal bites and attacks: Who's to blame?"4
  • "California man busted for transporting firearms; blames veterinarian for dog's death"5

Herein lies part of the problem. By assigning blame, the terminology chosen by journalists often fosters faulty reasoning about cause-and-effect relationships. However, the problem does not rest with journalists.

Isn't it true that many of us blame newspaper and magazine journalists by accusing them of printing half-truths and quoting statements out of context?

For example, we blame them for careless and inaccurate reporting of new medical developments that result in false hope of miraculous cures at one extreme and unwarranted fears about public health hazards on the other. The examples of blame related to the veterinary profession mirror those that people encounter every day on television, the Internet, radio, in newspapers and magazines.

For example, on Sept. 4, 2006, a Google Internet search for the word "blame" resulted in more than 138 million hits, including:

  • "Driven from homes, Lebanese blame U.S. for war"
  • "U.S. says Hamas to blame for Gaza crisis"
  • "Who's to blame for Katrina?"
  • "Bush assumes blame for Katrina response"
  • "The Somali conflict: World politics to blame"
  • "Book costs up: Blame publishers"
  • "Journalists blame Israel for war coverage"
  • "TV to blame for school's sex shame"

What is blame?

Webster's Dictionary defines blame as "to put the responsibility of an error, fault, etc. on someone or something."6 Blame is derived from the Latin root word "blasphemare" meaning "to speak evil of." Blame is not a synonym for shame (meaning dishonor or disgrace), although these two terms are often linked. Likewise, blame is not a synonym for accountability or responsibility. Both of these words contain the suffix "ability." The word accountability literally means to stand forth and be counted, and implies personal acceptance of responsibility for one's actions.

Further, responsibility is defined by Webster's as "able to distinguish between right and wrong and to think and act rationally, and hence accountable for one's behavior."6 The word responsibility connotes that ability is required to consider available options in order to respond in a constructive way. In contrast, blameful responses are often more destructive than the original problem.

Although destructive criticism is closely linked to blame, according to Webster's Dictionary, the word criticism originally meant discernment or separation based on fair and sound judgment.6 Thus, constructive criticism is not a synonym for blame, censure or condemnation.

It is apparent that blaming is usually a reactive, judgmental response to perceived wrongdoing. Blame is a negative force in that it tends to polarize opinions. By blaming others, we often convey the impression that "I'm right; you're wrong!"