Saturday, September 6, 2008

P4E.085 Scapegoat Redux

There's a scene in the movie National Treasure where federal agent Sadusky says to Ben Gates (who's stolen the Declaration of Independence, then lost it),

"So, here are your options: Door number one - you go to prison for a very long time. Door number two - we're going to get back the Declaration of Independence; you help us find it, and... you still go to prison for a very long time. But you'll feel better inside."

Gates says, "Is there a door that doesn't lead to prison?"

and Sadusky replies, "Someone's got to go to prison, Ben."

When things go wrong, it seems ingrained in human nature that someone must be blamed and pay a price.

My being a scapegoat brought about some heartfelt discussion with my wife, Gwen. Initially, Gwen felt compassion for me in the specific situation where I was made the scapegoat. She actually cried for me. As our conversation unfolded, Gwen let me know that some old wounds had been re-opened by the whole scapegoat scenario.

Gwen helped me to remember that, before I became well, I had quite a track-record of making her and my sons scapegoats. In my weaker moments, I'm sure I still have that capacity. My inability to take responsibility for when things go wrong caused me to become very adept at blameshifting. So, when a scrap of paper with an important (to me) phone number I thought I had left on the kitchen counter went missing, Gwen and the boys were the most likely targets to blame. In fact, whenever anything was out of place and not easily found, I would go on a rampage of "where did it go?" "who moved it?" "why would anyone touch it?" Everyone would have to stop what they were doing to help me find the whateveritwas that was lost. And we wouldn't stop until it was found or we were just so emotionally exhausted, we'd have to stop. It would not occur to me to go to Plan B and use a substitute whateveritwas. It would not occur to me to save time, just let it go and re-create the whateveritwas. It certainly would not occur to me to take personal responsibility without looking for a scapegoat. The air would be thick with my fuming and fussing and blaming. Looking back, it was emotional abuse, no doubt. (It pains me to confess to you what an ass I can be.)

I write just one example, but you can imagine how this pattern could expand to fit any given situation in my life and how my wife and sons came to feel that they were walking on eggshells. This pattern led Gwen to "become a different person" when I was around. Her guard was up. She would be on the defensive. What would be next? My sons simply sought escape. Who wants to be blamed for something that they had nothing to do with?

I imagine that the reason I was made the scapegoat was so that I could feel what it's like to be one (It sucks). So that, in my new found self-awareness, I could empathize with my wife and sons. So that I could realize again that, lacking a spiritual orientation, I had treated Gwen treacherously and exasperated my sons. Mortal sins, both, for which I am truly sorry.

Although blameshifting and scapegoating are human nature, there are examples where men of honor have resisted the urge. My good friend and New York architect, Gary Shoemaker (, recently recommended the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin which I will read in due course. Gary says that the author describes an Abraham Lincoln who, having selected his own political rivals and enemies to serve in his Cabinet, refused to shift blame away from himself for anything that would go wrong. He simply would not allow anyone else to own his problems. The responsibility was his, pure and simple. In the end, those same rivals and enemies praised his unwavering character.

I would like to be such a man. God help me.

Guard your heart, Kim

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