Management of Similarity: Blame

To forgive is to condemn

Earlier posts in this series:

Poles of Attraction
Management of Similarity
Management of Similarity Moment

It’s important to understand what a narrative is.

Facts are objects and events. To create meaning, a narrative is necessary. A narrative is necessarily an compression of facts. Some facts are demoted and others promoted. Some are included, some excluded.

If I were to describe a trip to an animal shelter, I most likely would not mention the shirt that the receptionist was wearing. However, I might mention the dogs I passed over. Their behaviour might tell you something about my priorities. Here is where narratives may diverge. Another person might describe different dogs than I would, thereby giving the listener a different impression of my priorities. Both narratives would be compatible with the facts, but the conclusions drawn from them would be different.

Here is the important insight about narratives: there is no inherently correct narrative. Narratives are, by virtue of compression, untrue. Facts can be true, but narratives are a curation of facts, and therefore untrue, even if not false.

When a situation creates disappointment among different actors, it has always to do with narrative. One path to take is to assume that all actors are rational and equally motivated. Then we can see who contributed unreasonably to the disappointment. Then we can assign blame to the guilty actors, and we can forgive them. This might sound beautiful, but it is not management of similarity.

Management of similarity is attention to what is harmonious. Creating narratives of blame might seem easier, but it is not. The conversational loops of accusation and counter-accusation rarely end in consensus, and often end with frayed nerves. The cycle of blame and forgiveness is exhausting. Creating narratives of blame might seem natural, but it is merely habit, derived from religious influences. It is ‘natural’ in the most tutored way. It is a form of mental poverty, created by institutions whose wealth is dependent on the currencies of sin and guilt. Once you realise that you’ve been owned, it is much easier to focus on harmony.

There are two classes of narrative to be had. One has to do with the differing narratives of the actors, which we can use to assign blame. The other is the narrative of how the failure occurred.


In the blame case, we are identifying bad actors. We are amplifying what we don’t want; we are putting our attention on differences. If you force someone to defend or justify his behaviour, you are more likely to get that behaviour in the future, precisely because a narrative of justification has been crafted. People who engage in blame culture never escape it because it is a loop. Forgiving bad actors doesn’t change that. It just makes a new cycle possible.


Someone might or might not be to blame, but now the approach is to examine the social structure in which the failure occurred.

Consider that an army is capable of enlisting the participation of some very incompetent and unmotivated people, and nevertheless it can achieve complicated and dangerous objectives, on schedule. The army does not assume that every soldier is a rational and motivated actor. It does not permit soldiers to do whatever they want, then blame the ones who do undesired things. An army has structure.

Similarly, if you want to bake a cake, and one of the participants is six years old, you do not assume that she is a rational and competent actor, who may later be blamed for failure. You assign her to her older sister.

If you build a rocket, you don’t tag each component with the name of the responsible person and launch. You institute checks and back-up systems.

The common narrative

When something has gone wrong, the first question to ask is, “What were you trying to do? What was your goal?”

Usually, people’s goals are more reasonable than their methods. It is easier to come to consensus about goals. When it comes to methods to achieve those goals, everyone can agree that at least one method is wrong, namely, the one that inspired the discussion. At this point, you must build a common narrative about how the goal is going to be accomplished, and what the contingency plans are going to be. It might seem excessive, but consider the alternative: blame and resentment. It is exactly at the failures which create bad feelings that structure is necessary.

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