Who is to blame? Who’s responsible? Whose fault is it?

There are some things we don’t have very good or precise words for. Even worse – some words have several different connotations that overlap.

"Fault", "blame" and "responsibility" are some of them.

Take Sam. Sam is driving his car when he loses control, swerves, and hits a dog, killing it.

Now take Don. Don is also driving his car, loses control, swerves, and hits and kills a dog.

We can say that both Sam and Don are responsible for the dog’s death. But are they to blame? Is it their fault?

What if there was some black ice on the road? Does that change if they are responsible? If they’re to blame?

What if Don had a fifth of whiskey half an hour earlier? That changes things, doesn’t it? Even if neither driver set out to kill the dog, even if there’s a patch of black ice on the road, we’d probably all agree that Drinkin’ Don is definitely responsible, and quite probably to blame and that it’s his fault.

But we can use the same words – fault, responsible, blame – to describe all of the above, even though they feel very different.

I don’t have a solution for this; we simply don’t have the words. And the words we do have their meaning blurred and obscured by bad actors who benefit from making it all murky.

It seems like a small pedantic distinction, but it’s important.

It matters when you’re talking about people’s roles in oppressive systems. It matters when you talk about systems of oppression.

And it matters on a personal level.

So what do you really mean when someone’s responsible? When it’s their fault? When they’re to blame?

And, maybe more importantly, what do you not mean?

Featured Photo by Aaron Thomas on Unsplash

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