Assigning Blame: Use With Caution

Dear Persuader,

In a previous article I talked about using the term ‘everything happens for a reason’ to utilize the trust that many people have in this concept. I also wrote about superstition and the concept that ‘there are no accidents’ which happens to be a very powerful persuasion tool, and if you’ve read those two articles and attempted to implement the learning into your life, you already know what I mean about power.

Well, assigning blame is the other side of the ‘everything happens for a reason’/’there are no accidents’ coin. Wherein both of these concepts use our prospect’s belief in an ordered, equitable universe, assigning blame uses a common enemy as a means to persuade.

Better hang on here if you are religiously oriented because I’m going to shake the tree just a little bit here. (Disclaimer: My intention is never to intrude on anyone’s beliefs or practices because I vehemently believe in Freedom of Religion and to me, this extends to spiritual practice of all kind. But, like it or not, religion and spirituality are intertwined with everything in life and I use the examples below to teach persuasion, not to push my beliefs or dissuade yours.)

In group theory, there’s a lot of discussion about enemies, common enemies. One of the greatest ways you can ever use to bond a group is for them to have a common enemy.

Let’s start with Christianity as an example. What’s the common enemy of Christianity? Well, you probably know right off the top of your head, it’s the devil. How is this installed in Christians from an early age?  Well, we start saying things like, ‘We as humans are born into a world of sin and the mere act of being born causes us to not be able to get into the life hereafter until and unless we accept Jesus as our savior.’

That’s pretty intense. Let’s look at the enemy. The enemy is, just being born, because we’re born into sin. Who’s responsible for that? The devil.

This is a great tool. I heard someone say many years ago, ‘The devil is the best friend the Christian ever had because without him, there would be no need for a savior.’ Think about the word ‘savior’. Savior implies someone needs saving. And if you’re born into sin, you in fact do need saving.

Again, I’m not debating any of this. In fact, I’m kind of being the devil’s advocate here, so to speak, because I’m literally standing back and removing my own beliefs just to point out to you what’s going on so you can see this.

Now does it mean, by the way, having a common enemy is a bad thing? No, I think common enemies are great things. But one has to be careful and responsible. Is it responsible of a Christian to say that the devil’s a common enemy? Absolutely.

Also note the advantage of pointing at a common enemy that you can’t see, you can’t hear, and in fact, even humanities basic drives and desires can be attributed to the influence of this being? It’s pretty amazing. (From my previous article ‘Very Superstitious’, can see how this might fit into the definition of ‘superstition’?)

We have an inherent need to assign blame. In fact, it’s so fundamental to the core of who we are that everybody does this.

How about a political example? How about the ‘War on Terror’ or the ‘War on Poverty’? It’s virtually impossible to argue that anyone is for ‘terror’ or ‘poverty’.  These are cultural common enemies. Terror and poverty, however, are concepts, not actual, tangible physical groups against which a war can be won, but notice how insanely powerful as enemies.  If winning a ‘war’ against a concept were possible, I’d sign up and fight.

So I’m contrasting ‘things happen for a reason’ with ‘blame.’ So at our core, we look to assign fault.

A word of warning: I wouldn’t dwell in the land of negativity, it’s like a double-edged sword. It cuts going and coming. Be very careful.


PS… Be sure and post your comments to the blog.

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Rintu - June 16, 2010

Hi Kenrick,
Great post, thanks. It does remind me of a time when I was in the corportate world and I was being used to sort out dysfunctional teams (Easiest way to sort them out…stop calling them dysfunctional, but the company never really bought into the simple approach).

I had a process when ever I took one of these teams over and a big part of it was about creating a common enemy. It could be the big boss, another department, customers, suppliers…didn’t really matter so long as they were removed far enough away so they were intangible but close enough to demonise them. I could turn round poor performing teams in a couple of weeks starting with this process.

I do agree though you need to use this approach with caution and probably doing a lot to increase the self esteem of the team so they don’t need an enemy to perform.

Thanks again for the post.



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