Fact, Fiction Or Fable: Is This A Sorry Story Of Fault-finding?

Posted at 16:21pm on 15th March 2009

I wrote a few weeks ago about Friedman’s Fables, which my daughter gave me for my birthday. The book is a collection of short stories – very short at times – each of which highlights a specific pattern of human behaviour. Because of events in my family, one of the stories particularly caught my eye.


My situation revolves around a decision made ten years ago by my parents and sister which has resulted in the breakdown of family relationships, plus financial consequences which have made my parents bitterly regret that decision. Having, at the time, foreseen and forewarned them of various possible scenarios, I have been demonised and accused of greed and jealousy for over a decade. Now that my predictions have come about, I find myself – demonised! – and accused of having orchestrated them. So, from a no-win situation, I found Friedman’s Fable titled Raising Cain: A Case History Of The First Family of particular interest to me.

Presented as a psychologist’s case notes, it highlights a family trait of discontent, brought about by a complete inability to take responsibility for their own choices. The First Family have had everything handed to them on a plate. Materially – in every sense - they want for nothing. Yet they are never satisfied. And this lust for more, robs them of any pleasure in what they already have.

What’s more, this un-slaked thirst and dissatisfaction, makes them look to others to fill their unfulfilled longings. And this, in turn, leads them to an expectation that your brother should be your keeper, and that everything that goes wrong is the fault of the other. What they don’t seem to realise is that in expecting others to make them happy, what they’re actually doing is handing power for their own fulfilment to another.

Thus, no member of the family is able to perceive his or her own individuality. And with parents like this, concludes Friedman – referring, of course, to Adam and Eve – the worry is that Cain “perceiving the source of all his problems in his brother, he may, one day, up and kill him.” Which, as we all know, is exactly what happened.


As a nation, we Brits were once renowned for – among other things – our orderly queuing, and our inclination to say sorry. I remember commenting on the fact, nearly thirty years ago, during a visit to the United States of America. Bump into anyone in the street in London and you’d hear an apology. Do the same in New York, and you’d be more likely to be cussed.

That difference is no more. ‘Sorry’ in the UK has become a word equated with failure. And in the free-market, de-regulated, capitalist culture of high finance and celebrity which, until recently had become the desirable norm for British life, who wants to be perceived as a failure?

So it’s no surprise that the UK’s Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has, to date, refused to apologise for the catastrophic failure of the banking system and unprecedented levels of civilian indebtedness. What me? he appears to be saying. Why should I show contrition for something that is not my fault? Never mind that he presided over the purse strings during the lead up to the worst recession in decades. The rest of the world – everyone, but everyone – is to blame rather than GB.

The Government is, in effect, the parent in the Fable. And as Friedman says, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” So if the Prime Minister can’t take responsibility for his mistakes, what hope is there that bankers will admit to their failings, or that individuals will accept the blame for their own debts?

As Friedman asks: “To what extent does the way individuals treat one another at any level of a hierarchy depend on how those above them on the flow chart are relating to one another?” Your views – left in comments at the end of this article – would be of great interest.

Your Comments:

Sarah (Tamisara)
16th March 2009
at 11:25am

Very interesting... your family situation is by no means unique;
I'm going through the same thing with my parents and brother
right now.

I think part of the problem is that (as you say) personal
responsibility is very hard to accept, and all too easy to offload
on others.

I foresee things worsening with the increasing litigation
culture... the culture of "blame".

The destruction of close, knit communties has heightened the
sense of "belonging", and the further away from our roots
we move, and the more seemingly independent we become, the more
isolated we feel.

Sorry off track there, but I think that materialism is a hollow
and lonely companion, and that most who seem to have it all, are
among the most disaffected in society.

I have given my son love and attention, and have tried not to
make the mistake of always picking up his mess; although as a
parent it is the natural reaction.

As for the Government... well I'd be here all day,

Interesting article

24th March 2009
at 10:05pm

Sarah, I'm so sorry it's taken me so long to respond to
your comment. Blame it on the trials and tribulations alluded to in
the article! I think you're right. The more people you talk to,
the more you secret problems you unearth.

I keep saying that I hope I don't repeat the mistakes my
parents have made - but who knows? All you can do is your best -
and from the sound of it, you're doing that with your son. And
I hope I'm doing it with my daughters.

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