Current Size: 100%

VPSA Blog: December 6, 2018


Illustration of VP Holmes sitting on his desk with "Tea with VP" in the background.


Blame, Shame, and Responsibility

December 6, 2018

It’s important to identify a problem to fix it, but no one likes blame when something goes wrong. We’ve all had experiences where we made a mistake, and someone blamed and shamed us for what we’d done. Sometimes we even blame and shame ourselves for not living up to unrealistic standards of perfection. The fact is, we all fall short, and we’re all learning. Even though we may make mistakes, it does not mean that we are mistakes.

Let’s say you’re doing a group project. You put in a lot of time and g ive your best effort, but your group earns a poor grade on the work. As you look at your professor’s comments, you see that someone in the group made some mistakes. “Wow, no wonder we got such a poor grade!” you say. This member of the group responds by pointing out your mistakes, stating that no one else would’ve made such a simple error. With this back and forth, both parties leave feeling attacked, and no one in the group learns how to improve the grade. That is blame and shame at work.

There is a big difference between blame and acknowledging one’s responsibility. Blame involves identifying who is at fault. Admitting responsibility consists of looking at how everyone’s actions affected the outcome and de termi ning which activities—not whose actions—should improve. It’s not about the person . It’s about the steps, process, and opera tions we use. Blame triggers shame, and shame often tells us that not only did we do something wrong, but that we are something wrong.

Instead of blaming your teammate for not meeting your expectations, try taking on the issues as a group and offering help. You could say, “The professor wants us to improve the bibliography next time. Were there any specific issues that I could help with on the next project?”

If you want to assess and correct behavior, yours or someone else’s, blame and shame are more harmful than helpful. Understanding is paramount, and responsibility is critical to productive assessment and correction; focusing on who is at fault and who takes the fall is a trap. The problem is not the point—the problem is merely a challenge, a fork in the road, and an opportunity to choose a better path next time. What steps will you take to avoid blaming and shaming yourself and others?

What steps will you take to avoid blaming and shaming yourself and others?
Let us know on Twitter!



Button that says Blog Home.


Our Mission

The Division Student Affairs supports the mission of the University by providing student-centered, high quality programs that promote an appreciation of diversity and foster a strong university community.


Address & Phone

Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs
2400 Sixth Street, Suite 201
Washington, DC 20059

Telephone: 202-806-2100 
Fax: 202-806-9302