Those of us who are parents know children master the blame game very early. Something happens, like a lamp crashing to the floor or a sibling crying out in pain, and the child “perpetrator” quickly declares, “I didn’t do it!” or, “He (or she) did it!”
As we get older, we refine our skills at the blame game – or as it’s often called, “passing the buck.” That term, I’ve learned, originated during the American frontier days, when poker players used a marker such as a knife with a buckhorn handle to indicate whose turn it was to deal.
If a player wished not to deal, he would delegate that responsibility by passing the “buck.”
Perhaps one day scientists will discover a “lack of responsibility” gene, because eager participation in the blame game seems universal. In business, when a company’s performance declines, executives are prone to point fingers in every direction but their own. When a prima donna pro athlete drops a sure touchdown pass in the end zone, he tries to explain why someone else was at fault. Politicians are particularly astute at casting blame away from themselves.
In fact, the phrase, “The buck stops here,” was popularized by a politician who refused to engage in the blame game. President Harry S. Truman kept a sign on his desk in the Oval Office that declared, “The buck stops here,” acknowledging the President has to make important decisions and accept ultimate responsibility for the consequences of those decisions. Unfortunately, many of Truman’s successors apparently did not share that noble conviction.
But if we desire to trace back to when the casting of blame – passing the buck – originated, we don’t need to search any further than the third chapter of Genesis. God had commanded Adam and Eve, ”You are free to eat from any tree in the garden [of Eden]; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:16).
Reading that, it seemed reasonable enough. Any tree except one. But like telling a toddler not to touch a hot stove and seeing the little one reach out to touch it anyway, the first man and woman yielded to a challenge from the serpent (Satan) and decided to check out why such good-looking fruit was off-limits. The result is what theologians refer to as, “The Fall.”
Adam and Eve didn’t stop there, however. They decided to compound the error. When they hid from God for the first time because of their sudden realization that they were naked, the Lord responded, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (Genesis 3:11). This inspired Adam to become the world’s very first buck-passer.
Man #1 replied, “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Turning to Eve, God said, “What is this you have done?” Eve proved to be equally adept at passing the buck when she responded, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12-13). Comedian Flip Wilson many centuries later would popularize this excuse by claiming, "The devil made me do it!"
They not only reacted defensively, but also sought to redirect responsibility. Eve blamed the serpent, but Adam wasn’t satisfied with blaming Eve. He implicitly accused God when he said, “The woman You put here with me.” Ole Adam might as well have said, “It’s actually Your fault, Lord, because this partner you provided for me was defective. She led me into temptation.” Talk about audacity!
It didn’t stop there. Throughout the Scriptures, we find the main characters stumbling into sin of one kind or another. In many instances they stubbornly refuse to acknowledge their guilt, desperately looking for a scapegoat to shoulder the blame.
King David was one of those, who foolishly thought his adultery with Bathsheba and attempt to cover it up by ordering the death of her husband, Uriah, could be swept under the proverbial rug. He thought he’d gotten away with it until he was confronted by the prophet Nathan. To David’s credit, he finally decided that “the buck stops here” and fessed up.
We find this powerfully declared in his psalm of repentance, Psalm 51. He wrote, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You [God], You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge” (Psalm 51:3-4).
Maybe we all should follow his humbled example. Maybe we, our society and our world would be a lot better if there were less buck-passing and more blame-accepting.
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Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly published, ”Marketplace Ambassadors”; “Business At Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace”; “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” A weekly business meditation he edits, “Monday Manna,” is translated into more than 20 languages and sent via email around the world by CBMC International. The address for his blog is www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com. His email address is email@example.com.