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hepburn“We are taught you must blame your father, your sisters, your brothers, the school, the teachers, but never blame yourself. It’s never your fault. But it’s always your fault because if you wanted to change you’re the one who has got to change”

-Katharine Hepburn

I cannot imagine how much trouble Katharine would get herself into if she were to say such a thing today. I can already see the Twitter wars, the Facebook fights, the insistence that she apologize immediately for suggesting such a thing. Everyone knows women are completely powerless victims of never ending oppression we have absolutely no control over. To even use the word “fault” is an appalling attempt to promote misogyny, shame women, and engage in victim blaming. Privilege, she has forgotten her privilege and is now persecuting everyone!

She is absolutely correct however, it is always your fault because you are the only common denominator in your own  life. To believe anything else is to actually hand your power away. If one cannot accept fault, blame, responsibility, then one is basically saying they are completely helpless. One is rarely completely helpless. Even if your circumstances are beyond your control, you have the power to change your attitude towards them.

I’ve written quite a bit about the toxicity of shame and sometimes people disagree because they think shame is a way of regulating people’s behavior, of triggering their conscience so they make better choices. What it is however, is a huge minefield in the world that weighs people down so they get so resistant, they cannot even conceive of anything outside of the constraints of, “Who’s fault is this? It certainly isn’t mine!” In an instant everything becomes personal. You’re trying to blame me! Or women. Or men. Or some group I’m associated with.

That is the kind of division that toxic shame causes, the type of defensiveness and fear that encompasses it. It’s an attitude that creates complete gridlock. There can be no genuine change where there is no humility because everyone must remain resistant and walled off. Battle mode, I call it.

Congress is a good example. According to surveys what people want more than anything else in the New Year is for our congresscritters to come together and actually accomplish something. Of course in politics one does not dare admit to ever having made any mistakes because that just leaves one vulnerable to attacks from the other side. Along with not admitting fault however, comes a state of believing you have no responsibility, and therefore no power to actually do anything. In our leaders it leads to an approval rating in the teens. Congress is now less popular then several common diseases.

I say this over and over again, but the personal is really not political. You cannot change the world but you can change yourself. That is scary because so many people then have to confront the fact that they are carrying around all this toxic shame that is preventing them from moving forward. Ironically, when you take responsibility, you often discover that most of that weight you’ve been carrying around, doesn’t even belong to you.