Who Do You Blame?

© 2011 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.

We live in a Culture of Blame, where individuals are blamed and attacked for complex social and political problems. This has been growing for years, but it perhaps reached a peak in 2010 with negative election ads and the blatant targeting of individuals by political leaders with “all-or-nothing” attitudes and war-like rhetoric. But our culture is the responsibility of all of us. We must reject this behavior of our political leaders, without blaming them as all-bad individuals.

The night before the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, I was out at the movies with my wife to see a fluffy drama and we both commented on how extremely violent ALL of the previews were – with attractive young people blowing up buildings and shooting dozens of “enemies” in fast-action shots with their guns. Who would watch these movies? Apparently tens of millions of people, especially our young people, who are searching for meaning in our culture of blame. But this culture of blame and violence is the responsibility of all of us. We must reject this behavior by our entertainment executives, without blaming them as all-bad individuals.

Today, our news programs glorify blame and violence with histrionic voices, police sirens, and repetition of images: images of violence, but also images of the individuals who commit the violence. I remember when the Today Show chose to show the video made by the shooter at Virginia Tech several years ago. His rant against vague individuals received the attention that we give important people in our society. Then just a couple weeks ago, TV news repeated the video of a man confronting a government panel while waving a gun around and eventually shooting at them – until he was shot to death by security. You get more of what you pay attention to. Yet our news programs are becoming more and more focused on extremely bad behavior in histrionic voices saying: “Don’t do this. But now we’ll show you how to do it!” We must reject this histrionic culture of blame and violence, which actually increases with each event, because histrionic emotions are contagious. And our brains mirror the images of bad behavior we see – such news should be presented in text form later in the program, not colorful, exciting images that lead the news.

For the past ten years, I have been teaching and writing about the increase of high conflict people in our society, including the impact of our culture in the development of their high conflict personalities. Based on recent research, I estimate that approximately 15% of our general population has high-conflict personalities and that this percentage is increasing. High conflict people are preoccupied with blaming others for problems in their own lives, tend to have a lot of “all-or-nothing” thinking, unmanaged emotions, and extreme behaviors. I give seminars to legal professionals, healthcare professionals, college administrators, law enforcement and others, and they all report a dramatic increase in high-conflict behavior in the past few years – especially the past year.

Neuroscience tells us that emotions and behavior are contagious. The mirror neurons in our brains are especially vulnerable to copying the behavior we see around us, especially when it is repeated by those in positions of authority. What we are witnessing is the increase in people who have difficulty regulating their own behavior and often have mental health problems, in a political culture that is decreasing its regulations of individual behavior from Wall Street to gun deregulation, and a news and entertainment culture that teaches violence and revenge. There are too many people who can’t handle this Culture of Blame. It’s up to all of us to change it – without blaming individuals. As Pogo said: “We have met the enemy and he is us!”

Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.

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