It is a late summer afternoon in a neighborhood filled with tree lines streets, kids playing, yard work being done, and barbecues. Suddenly a shadow passes over the neighborhood followed by a flash of light. At first, the residents of Maple Street think nothing of it, but then their attention is grabbed when their electricity goes out. The neighbors begin to funnel into the street to figure out what has happened and discuss action plans. A young boy named Tommy mentions reading a story about an alien invasion that caused similar issues. Tommy also mentions that in the story the aliens are living as a family appearing to be human and use the power outage as a way to isolate the neighborhood.
As the day goes on, stranger things begin to happen, cars start on their own, certain houses have power while others remain without, and then the unease sets in. The neighbors of Maple Street take to heart the story Tommy read and begin to turn on one another finding questionable characteristics in each neighbor that could point to them as being “the alien”. As night comes, the neighbors have become more paranoid and trust no one. A shadowy figure appears on the street, scared and uncertain, a neighbor grabs a shotgun, shoots and kills “the alien” to learn that it was one of the neighbors. Utter chaos has now set in. Neighbors are running up and down the street, women are screaming, and children are crying.
The episode ends on a nearby hilltop where a spaceship with two aliens are looking down upon Maple Street. They comment to each other how about the residents of Maple Street; “stopping their machines, radios, telephones, and lawn mowers, throw them into darkness for a little while and you can sit back and watch the pattern; they pick the most dangerous enemy they can find, and it’s themselves. We will go from one Maple Street to another and let them destroy themselves.”
This is probably one of the most well known Twilight Zone episodes. I think it resonates with many people because most of us can see ourselves in the residents of Maple Street. We have found ourselves in situations similar to this (minus the aliens), feeling stress, not knowing all the answers, chaos, and uncertainty. When we find ourselves in situations like this, it is uncomfortable, and one way to deal with the uncomfortable is to place blame. Blame takes the light off of us and places it somewhere else. It also removes responsibility and accountability from ourselves and places it elsewhere.
Blame is an ineffective and dangerous way to deal with what is uncomfortable. This episode exemplifies the dangers of blame. When we place blame, people begin to turn on each other, they stop trusting in each other, they stop looking for solutions, and the group begins to fall apart. Blame also promotes the good of the individual over the good of the group.
Blame is also used to protect our ego and to protect ourselves from looking inward and taking responsibility for our actions. Blame allows us the space to push away and become an outside observer as opposed to an active participant. Blame becomes a security blanket we can use to protect ourselves from failures, lost opportunities, or situations where we should have spoken up or stood up.
Before becoming the residents of Maple Street in both our professional and personal lives, we need to stop placing blame and start taking responsibility for the situations we find ourselves in. We need to stop making problems personal and see them as opportunities to step up and find solutions. The first step to stopping the blame game is to recognize it when it is happening. Once you realize you are placing blame on someone or something, think about why you are doing this; is it for self preservation, ego, pushing focus away from your own short comings, etc. When you’re realize why are you placing blame, you can then begin to change your actions. Instead of placing blame, focus on solutions, interact with others with empathy and without judgment, evaluate a process or a system, not the individuals involved, and look forward instead of looking behind.
It is hard to change a behavior that most of us picked up in childhood but it is important to recognize the damage of blame. By working together, seeing everyone as part of the solution, we will be able to accomplish a lot more than when we focus on saving ourselves, protecting our ego, and running from responsibility.