What Can We Learn From Parking Wars?

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Brian Gurrola via Flickr Creative Commons

If you want insight into human behavior, watch Parking Wars, an A&E reality show and don’t just watch one, watch several of them.

It’s safe to assume these are edited to get the audience to react in a certain way; but, there are still patterns of behavior that are fascinating to observe.  I have always felt that one of the keys to less suffering is to take responsibility for your actions.  Once you take responsibility your fear of blame recedes and you can start problem solving the solution.  You could write a dissertation on human behavior after watching a few seasons of this show; but, I want to talk about blame.

In the show, the folks who lie and come up with a million excuses and blame the ticketing officer, blame the city and blame the government and blame everyone but themselves clearly suffer the most.  The folks that shrug their shoulders and say, I knew I shouldn’t have parked there.  I got caught;   pay their bill and move on suffer the least.  For them, they understood the risks, they took them and they lost:  The end.  For the other folks, it’s never the end because they are so angry at everyone else for the hole they dug either by getting the tickets themselves or lending their car out to other people who don’t take care of their tickets.

The act of taking responsibility for your choices and actions ends or at least diminishes the stress and negative brain chatter.  The act of blaming doesn’t relieve a person’s stress.  It seems to just add fuel to their anger.  These folks see the whole experience as something being DONE TO THEM.  They are the victim.  They also think they should fall under an exception because they are delivering something, working in the building adjacent to the parking space or my favorite, only parked there for a minute.  One guy parked in a handicap spot and was quite angry he got ticketed because he was just running into the store for a minute.  Stating the shortness of time was a common refrain.

I think one of the differences between the folks who take responsibility and the ones who blame and make excuses is their level of empowerment.  The folks who take responsibility understand that it’s in their power to mostly avoid these unpleasantries by paying attention and obeying the rules.  The other group doesn’t see it this way at all.  In fact, they seem to feel quite powerless in the situation which causes a tremendous amount of suffering.

All of this applies to the workplace quite easily.  When things go wrong, as they sometimes do, even if you work in a dysfunctional place, it’s best to own up to your mistakes and remain calm.  If you can manage not to let criticism paralyze you or send you into an energy wasting defensive mode, you win even more.  This attitude works with coworkers and across the service desk with customers.

I have a Buddhist friend who told me about this practice she had undertaken.  We were talking about blame and she said if she felt the urge to blame, under the philosophy of this practice, she would take the blame onto herself.  She used the example of being driven nuts by a partner who leaves their socks on the floor and you feel like you’re constantly picking up socks.  I asked how she would handle that.  She said, “I’d pick up the sock and say to myself: why did I leave that here?”  We laughed pretty hard at that one; but, I was intrigued by the idea.  It feels so awful to be blamed for something whether you did it or not.  But, it also feels horrible to blame.  There is a desperate anger in the act of blaming that is a slow acting poison.  By taking the blame back (Why did I leave that sock here?) you are creating a habit of cultivating compassion and shielding the person from your poison.  This particular friend works in a high stress, corporate environment.  We frequently talk about managing our lives at work while maintaining our openness and ability to be compassionate and empathetic.  Many people would say there is no place for that in a corporate, dog eat dog, environment.  My friend and I would disagree.  The more risks you take (taking the blame for something so you can move on to solution finding), the less scary it becomes.

Here’s my challenge:  During the next week, notice how often your mind jumps to blame someone for something.  It doesn’t matter if it’s about socks on the floor or losing a big client; if your mind starts hunting for someone to blame, take note of it.  Ask yourself what would happen if you just skipped past the blaming stage and got to the solution part (picking up the sock or creating a team to brainstorm ways to keep good clients).

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