There is a saying that when you point a finger in blame at another person, you have three fingers pointing back at yourself.

The recent hoopla surrounding the bailout of the Detroit Big Three reminded me of this saying. It is obvious that the bailout is hugely unpopular, and there is understandably a lot of anger being directed at the management of these car companies for the many, many poor decisions they have made over the years that have contributed to their current state. But are they solely to blame? I think not.

The sad truth is that the car companies have been producing big stupid gas guzzling super-trucks for a good reason – people have been buying them! And the reason people have been able to afford these gas guzzlers is because of the low taxes on gasoline in the US compared to the rest of the world. Why are taxes so low? Because there would be an uproar if politicians tried to increase them!

The Blame Game

I mention the bailout because I think it is a good example of how people can simultaneously point a finger in blame at others while being in denial of their own actions. Now, you may drive a fuel efficient car (or perhaps you don’t even drive) and you may be perfectly happy to see taxes on gas rise for the greater good. But even if this example doesn’t apply to you, the fact is most of us have on some occasion been guilty of hypocrisy when pointing out flaws in others.

I know I have. I get annoyed at other people’s laziness, but I’m often very lazy myself. I shake my head when I see the latest politician get caught in an ethics scandal, but I also know I have had a few lapses in judgement over the years. Of course such hypocrisy sounds silly when I throw a spotlight on it, but the fact is it is very easy to go through life unaware of our thoughts and actions. That is, we fail to “know thyself”.

Self-Knowledge

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” – Carl Jung

Carl Jung, the influential Swiss psychologist, believed that each of us possesses a shadow that is prone to project, whereby a personal inferiority is turned into a perceived moral deficiency in someone else. Jung said these projections both insulated and crippled individuals by forming a thick fog of illusion between the ego and the real world.

This article is not necessarily saying we shouldn’t blame others when they do something wrong. Rather, I would simply like you to see blame as an opportunity for greater self-knowledge. When we get irritated, when we get angry, when we feel the need to point to flaws in others….. all these feelings can be valuable clues that can lead to a greater understanding of ourselves.

Most of us have a few things we would like to change about our life. But it seems to me that very often areas of our life that would be of most benefit to change stay covered by that thick fog of illusion Jung referred to. I think it’s relatively easy to admit you’re overweight or that you’re lazy; I know I hear these gripes quite often and it perhaps partly explains the huge interest in productivity and “life hacks”. But what about admitting that you are selfish? Or that you are mean? Or lacking in ethics? These are not nice character traits, and I think it takes a lot of courage to stand in front of the mirror and admit these things about ourselves.

Final Thoughts

The next time you feel the need to point your finger in blame –  whether it be at the car manufacturers in Detroit, your partner, your parents or the latest in a long line of crooked politicians – make a point of being aware how you feel. Realize three fingers are pointing back at yourself, and then answer the question:

“Is there a chance I’m projecting something I don’t like about myself onto someone else?”

Admittedly this is not an easy question to answer as it may reveal side of yourself you would rather not face. But what’s the alternative? A thick fog of illusion? My suggestion: take the red pill. Once you begin to search for the truth, you open the door to change in your life.

What are your thoughts? I would be interested to hear them in the comments below.

Peter Clemens

Peter Clemens is founder of The Change Blog and author of The Possibility of Change books series. Click here to learn more about Peter and his books.