In To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility, Jonathan Sacks contrasts a penitential culture with a blame culture.
Penitence involves honestly acknowledging our mistakes, learning from them, and endeavoring to live better lives. We seek reconciliation with God, people, and the earth where needed, and do not waste energy on unnecessary guilt and shame. Mistakes serve a higher purpose when they lead us to new opportunities for good. Our communities benefit as a result.
If we succumb to the temptations of blame culture, we treat ourselves as a victimized object. We pin blame on somebody else and nothing more happens. Energy dissipates. Everyone loses.
We can opt instead for a penitential culture approach, one where we ask, “This happened; what shall I do?” We recognize ourselves as a subject who has choices to make. This can lead us to constructive action, such as calling oppressors to account. We are not distracted from our focus on a better future.
The future can be different from the past. It depends on whether we participate in a culture of blame or a culture of penitence.
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington