The scapegoating tendency

Scapegoating is one of the most universal of human tendencies. When we face difficulties, especially difficulties that seem unfair to us, we seek someone to blame. Such scapegoating becomes especially dangerous when it can paint an entire group of people —  a race, a nation, a religion — in the darkest possible color and blame it for our problems and even the world’s evils. 

Undoubtedly, many problems do have specific causes including specific malefactors who need to be brought to justice through appropriate forms of retribution. Nonetheless, there are many other problems for which we can’t find any particular villain. And more importantly, as long as we don’t take responsibility to improve ourselves, we can never do anything worthwhile or wonderful in our life. 

Pertinently, the Bhagavad-gita (16.02) declares that the godly people are averse to finding faults. If we don’t take responsibility, we will always be looking to find some villain. And soon we will degenerate from finding actual villains for real wrongs to seeking villains for imagined wrongs. 

As a counterexample to this human fallibility, the Bhagavad-gita doesn’t focus on any specific wrongs or their doers even when it seeks to encourage a diffident warrior to do his duty. The Gita’s thrust is to harmonize ourselves with the indwelling Divinity and to thereafter act in a mood of service and contribution in the outer world. Though Arjuna did fight a war, his consciousness was that he was acting as an instrument of the Divine Will (11.33, 18.73) 

Whenever we are tempted to scapegoat someone, we can direct that same energy inward to reform ourselves and thus make sustainable inside-out change.

One-sentence summary:

As long as we keep searching for an outer villain for our problems, we can’t sustainably improve our inner or outer worlds. 

Think it over:

  • What’s wrong with the scapegoating tendency?
  • How can Gita wisdom help us go beyond this tendency?
  • Consider a problem that you feel is caused by some external agent. How can you take greater responsibility to deal with it?


16.02: Nonviolence; truthfulness; freedom from anger; renunciation; tranquillity; aversion to faultfinding; compassion for all living entities; freedom from covetousness; gentleness; modesty; steady determination; … – these transcendental qualities belong to godly men endowed with divine nature.

Author: Chaitanya Charan

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