I came across this brief article (“It’s Always Your Fault“) from 2016 by DHH, who–among other things–was the creator of the web application framework Ruby on Rails and co-founder of Basecamp/37Signals:
There’s a system in place that caused this to happen, and you’re part of that system. Shit never happens in a vacuum. The vast majority of it is a predictable consequence of the way things are. Even if it was “just somebody’s fault”, others put or kept that person there.
The goal is to change the system, and to change the system, you have to change its parts. Have the courage to start with yourself. Absorb as much blame and responsibility you can for what happened, and hopefully some of that introspection will rub off on the other parts of the system. But even if it doesn’t, you’ve still done your bit to improve matters.
In Medicine, we seem to oscillate between blame-game individual-at-fault finger-pointing and Just Culture the-system-is-the-problem.
It’s true we shouldn’t go around punishing people who are trying to learn and doing their best, and equally true that we need to always be looking to address system flaws. It’s also critical to keep in mind how many people working in healthcare are second victims of those mistakes, which prevents healthy introspection in favor of guilty misery.
But I also found his point just a little refreshing. As usual, it’s not either/or, it’s both.