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Who is to blame?

A common and natural response to terror and fear is for our brain to start looking for someone to blame, if this one person, group was not there, things would be different. In this way, we regain some kind of control, we think that we have an understanding of a threatening situation and we know what needs to be done to stop what makes us suffer.

By some Israel is to be blamed the aggressor and the occupation force killing Palestinian civilians by the thousands. Others blame it on Hamas because of the unspeakable atrocities they committed, hiding behind Palestinian human shields. Iran and its current leadership is to be blamed for promoting terrorism and extremist. Putin is another culprit for invading Ukraine. If Trump had not been the US President, US foreign policy would had been different.

How to keep personal responsibility and accountability applicable without the blaming which usually oversimplifies complex pictures? Does bringing the context help to that end or is it a way to justify unacceptable acts of horror?

I grew up in Greece in the 80s mostly, in a small provincial town of a beautiful island. Back in the days and the decades before, using violence to discipline and educate children was common and a socially acceptable method. The parents, the teachers who were violent to the children back in the days and the decades before were treated much differently by the law and the society than today. Today violence against children is an absolute NO and there are severe consequences for those committing it.

It makes me think of war, from the beginning of human history it has been the only way to settle disputes between states. After World War I and II the standards changed and we have set some rules as to when war is an acceptable act of response. Still though we have not reached to the point of an absolute NO. Parents or teachers who are violent to children are not hit back, they face justice. How different is it though in international relations where we lack the national judicial systems for the ones who have hurt others to be hold responsible, accountable and put at the side so they cannot hurt more?

In this more chaotic context, where law and order are not so much present, it seems that violence is often our response, targeting the one or ones or the group who are to be blamed. At the same time, all powerful countries take the position of protecting peace, justice and human rights so when they use violence the all do it in the name of all the above. For the citizens it becomes very difficult to tell who is right and who is wrong. That makes people susceptible to all kinds of stories, from the official government narrative to the most oblique ones. Convincing evidence may appear and be fabricated for all kinds of narratives.

The blaming and gathering of evidence to justify going to war or apply sanctions has always led to impasse regarding peace and today it threatens democracy and social cohesion. One could argue that we have one more reason to revisit it and consider alternative mechanisms.

What do parents do when one child hits the other? The old school says punish the child who was violent to make justice. Progressive pedagogical approaches suggest to condemn the behaviour, but not the child and explore the drives behind the behaviour. They invite parents to chechk if there is something they could do to change the conditions which enable the behaviour and teach the child a different behaviour. Lead by setting a different example, of not punishing and aggressiveness but of assertiveness, of setting boundaries, condemning the action, allowing natural consequences of their action to emerge.

Of course the complexities of dealing with conflict and re-education are much bigger at the bigger scale where more forces are at play. But these principles are worth keeping in mind and explore how they could be applicable in interactions with other political leaders or fellow citizens. Even at the highest political levels dialogue and peace became possible when the leaders met as humans and they were treated as such. There are always these moments human to human encounter and they are golden opportunities for transformation when applying these principles.

What makes it hopeful in my eyes when dealing with the bigger picture of conflict is that countries are not one homogenous thing. Look at the women in Iran and Afghanistan how they suffer and they try to acclaim their rights. There are always progressive forces. The political leaders of a country hardly ever represent their whole population. Being in dialogue with them and treating them as human beings, deeply hurt human beings with disturbing and dangerous behaviour, is of paramount importance. Sketching them as monsters through the blaming rhetoric serves nothing anymore. It does not take us to any better place, it becomes part of the polarization dynamic and it undermines peace and democracy.

At the same time as a humanity we have not reached the level of an absolute NO to war and violence in order to hold all politicians accountable against a specific standard, that of peace and justice. We support war in the name of peace, we support injustice in the name of justice. This is our collective consciousness at the moment within politicians operate and make decisions. So the who is to blame question becomes an oversimplification of complexities which require decades of progress at all levels to be transformed and change.

Tip for practice: who do you blame for what situation? What behaviours were hurtful? Visualise another way that this person could had dealt with the same situation. Create a roadmap on how to get there, how could you contribute to this?

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