I had a conversation with somebody the other day involving the use of a phrase that I like but isn’t necessarily common among others that share my pale skin tone. It was a civil, respectable conversation in which nothing negative was said about any ethnicity or anything, so there was no reason to assume any ill will from the person I was talking with. It was just a conversation about ethnic and racial differences. Probably the type of conversation a lot of us should be having.
Of course, it really got me thinking about what happens when differences aren’t handled well. When people look down upon other people as if they’re worth less or worthless. How there are divides built between people, not just racial divides, that are drawn as a “They started it” sort of thing. Political parties, religious denominations, etc. A constant whirlwind of people declaring that it is not, in fact, them that is to be blamed, but the other party involved. It’s not our fault.
We all want that classic scene from Good Will Hunting to be true for us. What’s odd is that we want to play both roles. We want to be Matt Damon, the one to be pitied and consoled. The one who is actually the victim and just needs to be shown that he’s just as fine as the rest of us. But we also want to be Robin Williams. We want to be the one who makes the declaration. We want to be the one who makes the wise realization of the source of all the issues and make it known to the world.
We want to be vindicated. We want to vindicate ourselves. Self-vindication is a flawed and hopeless system.
When we claim that it’s not our fault, we only acknowledge half of the situation. We don’t leave any room for individual responsibility. What if, when you looked at your role in the situation, you discovered that it actually was your fault? Then you do what you need to do in order to fix it. Okay, maybe it isn’t your fault, and that’s fine. But in doing that, you still ignore the fact that you can have an individual, responsible role to play in fixing things. You can always do something to try and make things better. Why not try?
And when we declare to the world that it’s not our fault, we do something very interesting: we stand firm in indignation. We declare, “Well, it’s not my fault, so therefore it is the OTHER person’s fault and THEY have to apologize/resign/repent/whatever it may be that would make the situation better”. Yeah, selflessness is difficult. But is selflessness really worse than resolving an issue? It is really so important to look out for yourself at all times to the point of indignantly passing the blame and ignoring any part you could possibly play in helping the situation?
Are you really going to consider yourself as more important than others?
It’s tricky. Sometimes it really isn’t your fault and sometimes it really is up to somebody else to make the steps towards reconciliation. But the solution is never through self-vindication. Matt Damon needed somebody else to reassure him that it wasn’t his fault so that he could actually be healed from his past. He told himself it wasn’t his fault, but his efforts to believe it had turned him into a bitter man. It took somebody else, standing there with open arms, to get to him actually believe that it wasn’t his fault, and that things could be alright.
Those first steps towards reconciliation are a whole lot easier if you’re standing nearby with open arms, not an indignant roar of “It’s not my fault”.