Anxiety and blame shifting go together like peanut butter and jelly, apple pie and ice cream, or Valentine’s Day and chocolate. Simply put, the fastest and most convenient way to restore our world to some degree of order and harmony after suffering through anxiety and tension or conflict is to blame it on something…or someone…or everyone.
In such times or moments you have to do something with all the uneasiness, awkwardness, maybe guilt, shame, anger, insecurity, or inadequacy. Lot of emotion and angst builds up inside of us in a lot of life situations or circumstances. Where’s it all go? It’s gotta go somewhere, right?
I saw this a few weeks ago. It speaks to my point.
If you (as a leader) are in a complex situation, or you’re dealing with complex relationships, and there’s a lot of struggle and conflict and anxiety in the mix – but YOU’RE walking around calm and easy and feel an undisturbed inner tranquility…Then guess what?
You’re probably blaming the dog.
And by dog. I mean somebody else…or a group of people. Easiest thing in the world to do – resolve the tension by bundling it up in a bag, tying it off, and dumping it at someone else’s doorstep.
This is the first step of more toxic steps such as scapegoating or even abuse. It’s a dark thing making someone else pay a price for having our inner worlds disturbed. After all – aren’t we entitled to live tranquil inner lives without too much disturbance? If you did not read that as rhetorical sarcasm, the answer is No.
The Scriptures have many exhortations and instructions of what to do with anxiety and inner disturbances. Most notably we’re to “not be anxious, but pray without ceasing.” For those who would over-spiritualize this and take it as a call to avoid inner turbulence, you are mistaken. We unfortunately can hail emotional ignorance or detachment as some kind of spiritual enlightenment, but in reality we’re just blaming the dog and giving it the name “negative emotion.” Rejecting negative emotion is not spiritual maturity. The call to “not be anxious” is not a call to not be troubled. In fact, I’m not sure the “joy of the Lord” can truly be just that without being in tension with unspeakable heartache and anguish. But what great peace can come from knowing that there is a place where you can unload all your fears, insecurities, inadequacies, shame, guilt, pain, woundedness, and failure.
Jesus gives the option that instead of making others pay for our incompleteness, limitations, or even sinfulness, we can take it to him to connect to His grace. This is good for us – to feel loved in our most frustrated and troubled places. It’s also good for others – because when we are grounded in grace we don’t make others pay for the tensions we try to resolve ourselves within us. We can treat people in human ways with dignity rather than dehumanizing them so we can feel more human ourselves.
One of the greatest leadership capacities I believe exists is the maturity and character of a leader to discern and assess in hard moments, to put it bluntly, “What the hell is going on inside of me!!!!” Call it a part of EQ if you want, but it’s so much more. It’s recognizing that our compulsion to blame, throw people under the bus, scapegoat, judge, or punish is one of the greatest teachers…and exposers of what is taking place within us. It shines a light on our moments of inner-panic that would lead to such short-sighted, panic-driven, and ill-fated actions. It might not feel like panic or anxiety on the face of it – for many of us are well trained to quickly displace even the smallest hint or reflection of fault or imperfection in ourselves. It’s automatic.
Jesus once said, “Be angry, but don’t sin.” I think it’s not far fetched to see there is also wisdom and truth in the following saying, “Be troubled, but don’t sin!” Be bothered. Be affected. Be torn up by the painful realities and the difficulties of relationships and community. But don’t sin.
And the number one way people sin when they are troubled? They take it out on the dog.
Don’t blame the dog. Let’s not redirect our unresolved emotions onto others as a toxic substitute for learning to pay attention to difficult and sometimes contradicting emotions. If punishing someone else is what it takes for us to stay calm – then being calm isn’t worth it.
There’s a holy peace and calm only to be found on the other side of being troubled as long as we’re learning to be troubled with Jesus and with community.
Let’s not settle for cheap calm, because it tends to treat people like dogs.