Playing the Blame Game

A short post today, by way of contrast with yesterday’s. I have always had a soft spot for the saint we commemorate today, Hilary of Poitiers. His very name suggests cheerfulness, and though I daresay the Arians who suffered from his attempts to put them right were unenthusiastic about his efforts, Hilary has continued to be a beacon of sound learning and encouragement in the Church to the present. I think he was probably the best Latin writer of the fourth century (before Ambrose, that is). His daughter Abra became a sanctimonialis and is commonly regarded as a saint, while he did much to encourage Martin of Tours in his monastic enterprise; so, I owe him my gratitude. He endured exile graciously for the most part, and I can’t think of any instance of his blaming others for the difficulties he himself experienced. How different that is from our own times, when someone always has to be held responsible and made to pay — often literally.

Unfortunately, a desire for vengeance — which is what playing the blame game really is — does not always serve the purposes of justice. If one has not oneself suffered the injury another has experienced, it can seem wrong or unsympathetic to argue that the injured party should not be crying out for compensation of some kind. But perhaps that is what we have to do sometimes. Not every wrong can be put right by the payment of a wergild or the award of a sum of money, especially if demanded from those who have no connection with the original wrong-doing. I was thinking about this in the context of a number of recent claims against NHS hospital trusts and asking myself whether we have too easily assumed negligence when in actual fact a mistake has been made. We are all fallible, and I pity those who have to try to sort out the genuinely blame-worthy from those who are not. May they have the clarity of mind and warmth of heart of St Hilary himself.

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7 thoughts on “Playing the Blame Game”

  1. Indeed and one of the problems is that insurance often demands that no admission of liability can be made so people aren’t able to apologise and admit there was a problem. This adds to the heartbreak.

  2. “Fix the problem, not the blame.” I first heard this quote from Sean Connery many years ago, in the movie ‘Rising Sun’ based on a novel of the same name by Michael Chricton:
    “The Japanese have a saying: ‘Fix the problem, not the blame.’ Find out what’s [screwed] up and fix it. Nobody gets blamed. We’re always after who [screwed] up. Their way is better.”
    It resonated with me then and, upon reading your post, even more so now. It seems we want to wiggle out from under any sense of responsibilty and casting the blame at others seeminly slides us off the hook. I think Saint Hilary would agree.

  3. I agree with your comments up to a point, Sister but there does come a point where blame for mismanagement and incompetence and bullying MUST be identified and attributed to those responsible. With responsibility comes accountability. The recent Ockendon report on maternity services at Shrewsbury & Telford NHS Trust is surely a case in point.

    • I’ve probably not expressed myself clearly enough and didn’t provide concrete examples (I wanted to keep my argument general and know that when I cite particular instances, readers tend to concentrate on them rather than the point I’m trying to make). Accountability is important, I agree, and the case you mention is particularly serious. Apportioning blame, however, often takes us into a different territory which sometimes means that corporate responsibility is shrugged off onto an individual. The award of monetary compensation can complicate matters further, making it difficult for some organizations to continue.

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