Wednesday, February 28, 2018


America is obsessed with singular blame. There is an assumption that it is always one side’s fault in any matter. We pigeon-hole responsibility for wrongdoing on someone or something seemingly to exonerate ourselves or our in-group. Always.

  • If Billy doesn’t score well on his standardized test, well then the teachers or tests are to blame.
  • If our taxes go up, it’s the fault of “the other” political party of which we do not affiliate.
  • Doctors sue pharmaceutical companies for the opioid epidemic as if the physicians were somehow forcibly coerced to prescribe.
  • Single mothers are blamed for behavior exhibited by their offspring.
  • Society’s ills are blamed on the most vulnerable like the poor and disabled.
We are doing blame all wrong.

What if I told you that blame is so much more complicated – that you cannot exempt yourself from responsibility for all these problems? Well that is exactly what this post is about and I’m going to explain why we all share the burden of blame.

Let’s talk about Billy for a moment (poor Billy. Sorry to all my Bill friends out there. I’m sure Tom, Dick, and Harry will thank you).

Billy is an individual.
He has his own age, health issues he was born with or develops (good or bad), disability status (including learning disabilities), gender to which he identifies (male in this case), even his birth order play a role in Billy’s individual self (there’s more of these – I’m giving a handful of examples). These things altogether make Billy pretty unique so far as no one shares these things with him. Billy’s health, disabilities, race, and even his gender play a role in how well he physically and psychologically adapts in any given environment. By environment, I mean anywhere Billy is – home, school, playground, etc. From the moment Billy is born, he begins interacting with his environment.

Billy is an average 10 year old Caucasian without any identified disabilities. He identifies as a boy, currently. He’s the second born to four siblings. He is in the fourth grade at a rural public school for the second year because the school held him back last year.

Billy is also directly affected by other systems that make him even more unique.

Billy’s Peers (and not necessarily just his friends), his family, and all the institutions he attends or works with such as school, clubs, sport teams, churches, etc. also influence how Billy adapts to all sorts of situations. Billy, the individual with his own personal effects, is being influenced now by how he is treated by others and how others interact with him. This is a bidirectional influence, too! That means Billy influences how others will treat him and visa-versa.

So now we have Billy, the individual with lots of baggage starting to accumulate, needing to take some standardized tests in school. His teachers think he’s lazy because he performs below expectations. Billy thinks he’s a loser because the adults in his life treat him like he’s a slacker. He may have a learning disability but no one has bothered to test him because all the adults in his life believe he just needs to try harder. In response, Billy stops trying because “what is the point?” He does poorly in school and tends to act out in frustration a lot so most of Billy’s peers believe he’s a problem-child and steer clear of him. Billy thinks his peers are snobby and sees no reason to be nice or try to befriend them. The few friends he has are also labeled trouble-makers. But wait...there’s more!

Something else that really affects Billy is health and safety.

Does Billy get the health care he needs to be a healthy child? Does he get well-care and immunizations to prevent disease and other preventable health problems? Is he provided healthy foods? Do his caretakers ensure he's protected from media that is inappropriate for his developmental age? Does he live in a safe environment free from harm and abuse? Does Billy get enough sleep for his developmental age? Is his school and home in a safe neighborhood? Well gee-golly-wiz, Billy could have a whole lot of other issues creep up if he doesn’t have health and safety needs met.

Billy’s parents are part of the working poor. They are uneducated about nutrition and budgeting. Billy didn’t have breakfast this morning; he rarely does. His family doesn’t have that much food in the house, ever. Meals are bought and eaten in real time from convenience stores. Occasionally there are toaster pastries in the cupboard but with three other siblings, those don’t last long. Billy has had some of his immunizations from the last time the school said he had to see the doctor two years ago. He hasn’t ever had a flu shot though. Billy is also really tired today. He was up late last night (12 am) playing his favorite FPS video game “Call of Allegiance” live with thousands of unknown strangers online. His game system is in the bedroom he shares with his siblings.

So you are saying right now, “okay, what they hell does this have to do with meeeeeee?” Here’s where you start to come in. But don’t worry – if you don’t see yourself in this section, you will be implicated in the next, I promise. Billy the individual has now been influenced by the things he was born with and the people he interacts with on an ongoing basis. Some of these things have really put some burdens on Billy that he will have to try and overcome.

Next comes the influence of those not directly interacting with Billy necessarily, but interacting with those around him. Billy’s neighborhood was briefly mentioned under safety. But what about the neighborhood’s overall personality? Is this a close-knit neighborhood where people all know each other by name or is it one where everyone keeps to themselves? Are there community areas where people congregate? This sets the tone for social support which is crucial for psychological well-being. How social is Billy’s neighborhood?

Billy lives in rural America. His town is spread out far and wide and he lives on the outskirts which is the poorer section. The next house is within walking distance but there are no sidewalks and so people do not take walks down the road. People tend to keep to themselves and mind their own business.

What about those who run the school? Billy’s school district is smaller but encompasses several small rural towns. The school board is comprised of elected officials who are also the same people who get elected to other posts within the areas. Behind their backs, the town-folk call it “the good ol’ boy system” because it’s always the same men running the town and schools. Very little in terms of progressive change happens in Billy’s school unless the State or Federal Government step in. That did happen last year when Billy’s school was found to be funneling all their disabled children into segregated classrooms against federal law. It’s no wonder Billy hasn’t gotten any testing for his learning difficulties, then!

Extended family also plays a part in how we develop and progress as adaptable humans. Extended family such as grandparents, aunts, and uncles can serve as social support systems. In Billy’s case, his maternal grandparents live 50 miles away. His paternal grandmother is local, but she and his dad are often arguing so they only see each other on obligatory holidays. His paternal grandfather left his grandmother when his dad was a baby. Aunts and uncles have all moved away from this rural town. Billy’s immediate family is pretty much all he has. He would probably tell you that is all he can take with three siblings!

The work environments of the child’s parents also come into play. Though this sounds odd, these environments directly affect the parents who then directly affect the child. Billy’s parents both hold jobs. Billy’s Mom works 28 hours a week as a retail cashier. She gets no benefits because the company keeps her just under the 30 hour full-time mark (though she keeps asking for more hours). Despite having only 28 hours per week, the company tends to give long unpredictable shifts instead of a set schedule. She only knows from week to week what days and times she will be working. It is also tedious work and she often finds herself irritable after a long shift. Billy’s Dad is a factory worker and is on shift work. He has limited family health care benefits that he pays for out of his check. The family sees dad very little because he is often working the night or afternoon shift. His likes the work he does but wishes he could get on day shift; he misses his family and he has never really adjusted to the changing sleep schedules that go with night and afternoon shifts.

Mass media, such as the news and social media also play a part in how we progress. Video games and movies are also part of this.

Billy is only 10 but he has a Facebook page which requires people to be at least 13 years of age. His parents didn’t pay attention to this because they didn’t see it as a big problem. Neither of his parents are tech-savvy and have little time as it is to monitor their child’s social media. Billy has 700 friends all over the world. He has no idea who 99% of them are and some are bots and likely predators. Billy’s profile and pictures are public. Billy likely has several more social media accounts we do not even know about. As already discussed, Billy was up way too late last night playing a violent video game. Though this video game is rated “M” for mature by the rating system, his parents got tired of arguing about the ratings on games with Billy. Billy now gets to play no matter how violent or adult the subject matter. His parents justified the games as a good way to get Billy interested in joining the military someday. His parents also think that if these games were so bad, they wouldn’t put them on display with the other games; every time he turns on his game system, ads appear for these kinds of games. Billy also gets to watch movies that are rated PG-13 and he thought that the Dark Knight movie was awesome. His parent’s have gotten confused over the ratings system. Disney movies are now often rated PG and so his parents figure the 13 doesn’t mean all that much. His parents do their best to keep the graphic televised news off limits, but remember, Billy is on social media.

So unless you live in Billy’s neighborhood, are on the school board, are up playing games with him all night, or are one of his Facebook friends you probably feel like you are exempt from responsibility, right? Wrong.

Culture is the most crucial part of why Billy is going to test poorly. It’s also why Billy is likely to drop out of school and why Billy could become the next mass shooter.

You and I create culture. We bring our values and ideas to the table and mush them altogether to create what is acceptable, ethical, legal, and popular. We don’t always all agree but the mob rules and the mob’s ideas become what is deemed our country’s culture. It is reflected in our media. It is reflected in our institutions and laws. It is reflected in our homes. The culture we have created in this country is unhealthy. Billy’s situation shows us this.

Billy performs well below expectations in school because he is lazy.
translates to: 
People who struggle are lazy or incompetent. 
This is so far from the truth. People are not inherently like this. They are taught to give up like Billy was. A lot of people have learning difficulties that are never addressed or are in bad home situations. We have to stop blaming the child or the person and look at the environment and how we treat the child. It is bidirectional. Always.

Billy acts out in school because he is a trouble-maker.
translates to: 
Some children purposely cause grief. 
No child ever does this until they learn that this is the only way they can get their needs met. We need to start meeting their needs in positive ways so that this does not develop. In Billy’s case, he was acting out due to frustration because he was not learning and being punished for something he couldn’t control. Children and people in general are not islands; we interact and react to others and our environments. Be part of the solution and not the problem.

Our culture also preaches that people living in poverty get what they deserve; that they are somehow lazy and keeping themselves in that situation, willingly. That makes so very little sense. Have you ever met someone who said, “I sure have it good living like this” when they are living in poverty? No, I’m pretty sure not. I’ve heard middle class folk wish they could be doing better. Most people who live in poverty don’t have any idea how to get out. Some are trying really hard to make ends meet like Billy’s parents. And though his example is fictional, it’s based on real situations. Retail jobs often skirt the full-time system to avoid federal full-time laws and also have unpredictable shifts. Factory work is inevitably still shift-work and lots of studies show people never fully adjust to night and afternoon shift sleep habits, especially when they rotate (and they typically do). And it isn’t quite so easy as find another job. Where do you think a retail cashier will find another job – at another retail location with the same problems. Factory work is getting harder to come by each day. And without furthering education, the job market options are scarce. I probably do not have to tell you the costs associated with furthering education. Not only does it require the cost of the education, but the downtime from work to make that happen. Good luck doing all that and feeding your family while working at the local mart with unpredictable work schedules. How is this your problem too? We need to change our attitude about why people are living in poverty. Only then can we start to work toward real solutions.

There are many more variables in our culture causing problems in our society. But most of all, I want to talk about our acceptance of violence as a normal part of life as part of this cultural breakdown. The media markets to whomever will buy. It is not the media’s fault that we are buying. When will we say that enough is enough? When will we determine that virtual reality games that allow for very realistic killing are bad for ourselves? When will we say that the violence that has become the blockbuster movie of the month is too much? When will we stop watching news that shows graphic violence? When will you and I take some personal responsibility for making it easier for Billy to access this kind of violent media? It’s not good for us and it certainly is not good for him. The acceptance of violence is in our culture is driving the violent acts taking place. It is becoming part of our lives. We are desensitized. And worse, violence is becoming an acceptable way to take out our anger. How long before Billy has had enough and gets hold of an AR-15 like the one he uses in “Call of Allegiance?” We must take a stand against acceptance of violence in our culture.

If we are indeed a culture of “personal responsibility,” then let us start taking some blame for the mess in which we have created.


Trying to get through all the bunk? For reputable publications about media violence and children:
American Psychological Association

American Academy of Pediatrics

Media Violence and Social Neuroscience