A blameless shrug

Yesterday I gave a shameless plug for the Magic Show I am performing with my friend Richard. I was playing around with the phrase ‘shameless plug’, kneading the words like poetic putty, and came up with the almost spooneristic ‘blameless shrug’. And, as it often does, that set me thinking and reflecting.

One of Bart Simpson’s catchphrases is, “I didn’t do it!” sometimes closely followed by, “Nobody saw me do it, you can’t prove anything.” I think we find that amusing because we know he did it, yet we can empathise with him. Nobody likes being punished (especially the way Homer Simpson does it!) so we don’t admit it when we have done something wrong in the hope that we can get away with it and avoid the consequences.

Lawyers will sometimes advise their clients to admit nothing – it is the prosecution’s task to prove that someone is guilty, you don’t have to start by proving your innocence (at least in theory).

It’s what the Garden of Eden narrative is all about: Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the serpent even though they were all far from blameless.

And aren’t there also times when we don’t admit things to ourselves. We try to fool ourselves that things are not as bad as they appear, that it wasn’t our fault, that we couldn’t be blamed even though we know (deep down) that we have a degree of culpability for something that has happened.

And we give a blameless shrug: I didn’t do it. It’s not my fault. You can’t blame me.

Perhaps you don’t identify with those things. Maybe you don’t identify with these either:

As a planet we are facing climate change that may change the planet irrevocably and cause flooding and droughts that will adversely affect thousands or even millions of people. But that is caused by global warming. I didn’t do it. Blameless shrug.

The world economic system seems to me to be balanced precariously on an assumption of consumption. The main consumers are the rich nations yet the wealth does not seem to be shared equally. But that is global economics, I didn’t do it. Blameless shrug.

There are more people in slavery and bonded labour in the world today than at any time in human history. But that is because there are evil people who exploit and oppress for their own gains. I didn’t do it. Blameless shrug.

Millions of people are displaced (we don’t seem to like to use the word ‘refugee’ any more) across the world because of conflict or oppression or desperate circumstances. But that is because of war and evil regimes. I didn’t do it. Blameless shrug.

And actually, on one level. we are entitled to our blameless shrug. Until we look beneath the veneer of conscientious complacency and look at our energy consumption and the waste gases that it generates; we consider our purchasing power and the thoughtless search for the bargain; we hear about human trafficking and think that it is bad but don’t do anything else to help those who are helping; we shake our heads at the cruelty and violence in other countries and say that it’s not our problem.

Blameless shrug?

You may well know the starfish story (I retold it here) – you may not be able to change the whole world, but can’t you make a small difference to someone? And if everyone started to do the same thing… suddenly instead of a blameless shrug the world gets a gracious hug.

So which starfish are you going to fling back today?

International Justice Mission 

Christian Aid

Fairtrade Foundation

Dignity

Be blessed, be a blessing.

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