The culture of blame is on the rise in today's world, especially among young people, according to a recent psychological study.
As a result, young adults and children are becoming more cynical in their outlook on life and more self-centred in their behaviour. Feelings of alienation and depression are increasing.
Researchers at the San Diego State University found that, from 1960 to 2002, 'college students increasingly believed that their lives were controlled by outside forces rather than their own efforts.'
They found the same substantial increase in a 'don't-blame-me' attitude among children aged 9 to 14.
The study tested more than 18,000 American college students and more than 6,500 children, assessing how much people take responsibility for their misfortunes and how likely they are to blame others.
'In the 1950s, it was fashionable to believe than anyone could make it if they tried hard enough,' writes Dr. Jean Twenge, who led the study. In the 60s and 70s, she says, this belief became less popular. At the same time, people became more likely to blame societal factors for the problems they faced.
Dr. Twenge suggests that the 'don't-blame-me-culture' could partly explain society's current record levels of anxiety.
Personally, I think the good doctor is onto something.
It should not surprise us that there is an increase in depression as people become less willing to take responsibility for their lives.
It makes sense: if I say that my deficiencies, my mistakes and even my crimes are the result of my factors outside my control, I make myself a candidate for despair.
When personal responsibility dies, so does hope.
If the direction of my life has been dictated by other people, or by the fates, my choices don't count for much at all.
If my decisions have made little difference in the past or the present, they cannot change much about my future.
I am powerless to change anything about my life and will forever be the victim, never the victor.
That defeatist thinking leads to all kinds of mental and emotional maladies.
Another person may abuse me in some way and I will be their victim in that event. But whether or not I remain their victim is mostly up to me.
Another recent study looked at the differences between people who consider themselves 'lucky' and those who feel they're 'unlucky'.
Why is it, asked the researchers, that some people seem to be blessed with many happy coincidences in life while others feel they have only bad luck?
One of the answers was intriguing. Lucky people, it seems, have a basically optimistic outlook on life. They expect good things to happen to them; they feel that things will work out for them in the end.
This attitude, it seems, makes them more open to the new opportunities life has to offer. Because they have a positive outlook, they tend to take opportunities which more negative people might pass up.
Taking personal responsibility is the first step to discovering a lasting sense of hope.
© Mal Fletcher 2005