Dr Jozelle Miller
December 6, 2016
‘Passing the buck’: Exploring the need to blame others…

Passing the buck is the act of attributing to another person or group one’s own responsibility. Research has shown that persons gravitate towards this sort of action more frequently in recent years. Persons are most likely to “pass the buck” when faced with choices that affect others than when those decisions affect only them.{{more}}

From a series of experiments, Steffel (2016) and her research collaborators found that the findings on passing the buck were particularly true when those choices had potentially negative consequences. On issues as diverse as making a business decision, choosing a hotel, ordering meals, and even participating in experiments, people were two or three times as likely to delegate an unappealing choice on behalf of someone else than one on their own behalf. Bottom line, people care more about avoiding blame for bad outcomes than getting credit for good outcomes.

As a rule, we like to have a positive self-image. While we may see someone fail and assume that’s part of who they are, often we will externalize our own failings to our situation to protect our self-image. This blaming of circumstances or others conveniently protects us from having to acknowledge our own contribution to an outcome we don’t like.

The essence of blaming others can be quite contagious, as we seek to protect our self-image, but it is very dangerous. When an individual always points to external reasons for their mistakes, it will be difficult for them to learn from the mistakes made. Not learning from those mistakes will hinder one’s ability to learn and grow.

The Buck Stops here… Accepting Personal Responsibility

With respect to personal responsibility, when you’ve done something wrong, you can accept responsibility by following these steps:

Own It…take ownership of your own behaviour and admit your misconduct or failure-to-act when you should have done so.

Apologize for It…offer a sincere apology to those you’ve wronged.

Make Things Right…make amends or do what is needed, if possible, to correct what you have done.

Take Your Medicine…accept whatever punishment is handed out for the poor choice that you made.

As simple as these steps may sound, they’re difficult steps to take. But accepting responsibility is part of growing up, and there are two significant advantages of doing so. First, taking the steps outlined above will build character. If you step up to the plate in this way, you’ll become a better person as a result, and you’ll learn how to make much better choices in the future. Second, the more readily you admit and take responsibility for a mistake, the less severe the consequences (most likely) will be.

For example, let’s say that you’ve cheated on a math test or failed to do your household chores. Your natural instinct may be to not admit you cheated and to make excuses for not completing your chores on a timely basis…

But, we have to learn that our default settings are poor choices. By readily admitting to cheating, your teacher will respect your honesty in admitting your mistake, and will take this into consideration when determining a proper consequence. On the other hand, you can rest assured the harshest punishment will come if the teacher has to discover on his/her own that you’ve cheated.

Regarding the chores, don’t wait to be asked why they weren’t completed on time. Simply admit the honest reasons you didn’t do them – it might be plain old laziness, the fact that you ran out of time or that you simply forgot to do them. Whatever the reason, just be honest. Again, the more upfront you are about misdeeds, the less severe your punishment will likely be.

Here are a few things that you can do to fully accept responsibility for doing the right things:

Make a Responsibility List…Identify and list all of the primary responsibilities that you have.

Review this List Daily…Remind yourself of the things that you need to do today in order to remain on time and on schedule.

Discuss the List with Others…Show your mom, dad or guardian the list of what you’re working to accomplish.

Update Your List…This list will change, things will get completed, and new responsibilities will develop so keep your list current at all times, and

Save Your Old Lists…As you update your list and make a new or revised one, save your old lists and go back and review them from time to time. This will help you understand the benefits of this responsibility list process and gain a sense of accomplishment for what you’ve done.

Dr Miller is Health Psychologist at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital.