Friday, January 14, 2011

Media Questions, Bullying and Violence

“Who’s to blame for this sorry situation?” asks the newspaper headline, which then gives two choices of individuals in the story. “Who do you blame for the recent events?” asks the internet website, and gives you a choice of four high-profile individuals to click on.

These are obvious hooks to engage readers, but they also increase the bullying nature of our national conversation. The question should be “What bad behaviors are part of the problem?” Not “who” is totally at fault and who is totally blame-free. We have created a Culture of Blame over the past ten years, in which leaders and media encourage blaming individuals for complex problems. It’s a game for many of them, but it’s role-modeling for bullying and possible violence for young people and unstable high-conflict adults – and we’re suffering as a nation because of it, as individuals learn to see other individuals as “targets of blame.”

As an example, over the past few years we have seen an increase in bullying – from the playground to the dorm room to the workplace. I train human resource professionals, legal professionals and law enforcement professionals in managing high-conflict people. They report that they have seen a dramatic increase in blaming behavior towards them just in the last year or two, including: people spitting in their faces, ripping up tickets in front of them, filing repeated groundless complaints, lawsuits and so forth.

The national tone is set by our leaders. But our leaders include the media, as well as politicians and celebrities. For the media, encouraging blame helps get attention and build a following.

We are witnessing a media war for survival among newsprint, mainstream television, cable news, the big internet companies and the new upstarts. They like a fight, because it draws attention to their site. They increasingly ask, “Do you know who’s saying what about whom now?” Or: “So-and-so just insulted so-and-so. Who’s side are you on?” They portray issues as bullies and victims – which hurts us all.

Don’t let their war become ours. The next time they ask you “Who do you blame?” tell them that’s the problem, not the solution. There’s too many important problems to solve these days. Tell them to ask the real questions that help us understand complex issues, and what we can do. As research shows, you get more of what you pay attention to!

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