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Who's to Blame?Who's to Blame?

Who's to Blame?

I have been both impressed and disturbed by the disparate reactions to these tragedies. On the one hand, the people of Calgary and High River appeared to pull together to overcome the tragedy that befell them. Politicians, businesses and ordinary people helped friend and stranger alike, and while the work of rebuilding has only just begun, I was touched by the spirit of cooperation.

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Topics: Cities, Culture, Elites, Institutions
Who's to Blame? July 17, 2013  |  By Dani Shaw
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This summer has been a time of immense tragedy. From massive floods that destroyed house and home in Alberta and parts of Toronto, to the surreal Lac Mégantic train crash that is the stuff of Hollywood movies, Canadians have experienced their share of tragedy.

I have been both impressed and disturbed by the disparate reactions to these tragedies. On the one hand, the people of Calgary and High River appeared to pull together to overcome the tragedy that befell them. Politicians, businesses and ordinary people helped friend and stranger alike, and while the work of rebuilding has only just begun, I was touched by the spirit of cooperation.

By contrast, Toronto's Mayor Rob Ford took flash flooding in Toronto and the chaos that befell residents and commuters as an opportunity to take political potshots at his predecessors, blaming these challenges on years of under spending by them.

Likewise, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair blamed the Lac Mégantic train derailment on Conservative spending cuts to transportation safety.

We accept this from our politicians and take it as a fact of life and yet if we acted this way at home or in our jobs or in other settings, our relationships and these institutions would rapidly deteriorate.

I suspect it is only natural and human to want to lay blame when something tragic happens. Yet we all know it does not help us in the long term. It does not bring our loved one back. It does not rebuild our home. And any of us who have experienced significant loss know we must ultimately come together with loved ones to move past the tragedy and heal and rebuild.

Institutions like business and the family would not survive if we regularly blamed others for the mishaps and tragedies that occur. How healthy would my marriage be if I blamed my husband for everything that went wrong? How long would I keep my job and how productive would my workplace be if every time something went wrong I blamed a colleague or my boss or the insensitive senior management? How awkward would it be for a visitor to come to our home or observe a workplace in which we constantly blame one another for things that go wrong?

Employers and employees know that in order for workplaces to function well, there must be effective ways to address problems that arise. Open-door management approaches, basic respect for managers and employees alike, and a commitment to taking concerns seriously and responding in a timely way are just a few examples.

Likewise in our homes, we recognize that in order for our relationships to survive they cannot always be adversarial.  We find positive ways to deal with our disappointments and disagreements and to overcome tragedy when it befalls us. We seek to understand one another with all our strengths and weaknesses and be willing to work together to overcome tragedy, recognizing that if we don't our marriages and families may not survive.

To what extent can political institutions learn from business or the family? Is there another way to get to the bottom of things? Or are politicians, like husbands and wives or frustrated employees, simply human? If so, do we continue to let them assign blame?

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