Einstein and the Nature of Blame, Guilt, Responsibility, and Respect

In our society, the idea of self-reliance is often viewed positively. And yet, it is our nature to benefit in numerous ways from others. As Albert Einstein beautifully articulated in a book titled, Living Philosophies: A Series of Intimate Credos:

Einstein in his later years

Einstein in his later years

“From the standpoint of daily life…there is one thing we do know: that man is here for the sake of other men–above all for those upon whose smile and well-being our own happiness depends, and also for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day I realize how much my own outer and inner life is built upon the labors of my fellow-men, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received. My peace of mind is often troubled by the depressing sense that I have borrowed too heavily from the work of other men.” (p. 3)

Conflict-photoDespite all that we benefit from the lives of other human beings, there are times when we come into conflict with them. This may lead to a conflict within ourselves.

According to the DIG CONFLICT MODEL that we have been utilizing on this blog, From Insults to Respect, a conflict occurs when the following three conditions occur:

  1. Party A desires an act will occur. 
  2. Party A perceives that another party is likely to act in a manner that interferes with the desire.  
  3. Party A perceives that the other party would be guilty of doing something wrong if he or she carries out the interfering act.






Notice that each of the three conditions has a key word italicized—desire for the first condition, interference for the second, and guilt for the third.  If we take the first letter of each of these key words and put them together, they spell DIG; hence the DIG Conflict Model’s name.

Party A, in the above definition, indicates the individual who is theoretically engaged in a conflict and from whose perspective the conflict will first be described.

The word “DIG” provides us a way to remember a technique to quickly and succinctly describe a conflict. First, we describe the “desire,” then the “interference,” and then the “guilt” condition.

conflict triangle 2

In addition to helping us describe a conflict, it can help us to better understand what is going on during a conflict. Very simple conflicts can be looked at as a single unit with little difficulty. However, more complicated conflicts will leave us scratching our heads.  The skill to break up the conflict into its three conditions allows us to familiarize ourselves with smaller, more easily understandable parts.  Then, when we join the parts together, the whole becomes easier to grasp.

Moreover, sometimes we can come up with an idea to make a change in just one of the easier to understand parts that then leads to the rest of the conflict becoming easier to manage. In earlier posts we looked at examples that illustrated using these ideas, and in one particular post we focussed particularly on ways to change the guilt condition (see here).


Since I wrote that post, I received some feedback indicating that there is some confusion about the nature of blame, guilt, and responsibility. Thus, today I shall undertake an effort to reduce this confusion, and then relate this understanding to respect.

Blame, Guilt, and Responsibility

peanuts and blame

Why does Lucy, in this comic, go out of her way to get people she knows to absolve her of all blame regardless of what happens? Here’s my take on this.

Blame2The word, blame, has a variety of meanings. So, to avoid confusion, on this blog when we are discussing the DIG Conflict Model we’ll be sticking to one particular meaning, e.g., “When a person blames someone, that person has the belief that someone is guilty of doing something wrong and deserves some type of punishment.”

Punishment is typically not a pleasant experience to undergo. In the above comic, perhaps Lucy wants to avoid punishment by absolving herself from blame.

According to the DIG Conflict Model, when someone has a conflict with you, or you have a conflict with yourself, part of what is going on is that the person who has a conflict with you believes that if you carry out the interfering act you would be guilty of being wrong, and therefore you would deserve to be punished. If you can transform that guilt into something other than guilt, it would eliminate one of the essential conditions of a conflict and thus resolve it.

responsibility 4One way to transform guilt, is to take responsibility for what went wrong. When we do so, we have some of the same very strong feelings that go along with guilt, but rather than believing punishment is the proper response, another is offered; we admit that we played at least a part in what went wrong, and then make it clear that we will take steps to improve our actions in the future. The genuine feeling that comes with taking responsibility, leads us to do a search for improvements.

responsibility boatWhat are the benefits that come from resolving a conflict in this way? There are many, but on this blog we’re all about how to transform insults into respect, so let’s focus just on this issue.

The Benefits of Transforming Guilt into Responsibility

David Coleman is a Senior Research Fellow at the National Security Archive. His most recent book is The Fourteenth Day: JFK and the Aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy

From his research, David found that President John F. Kennedy enjoyed very high public approval ratings compared with most modern presidents. Over the whole of his presidency, Kennedy averaged a 70.1 percent approval rating, comfortably the highest of any post-World War II president. By comparison, the average for all presidents between 1938 and 2012 is 54 percent.

On April 17th, 1961, Kennedy ordered what became known as the “Bay of Pigs Invasion”: 1,500 U.S.-trained Cubans, called “Brigade 2506”, landed on the island in an attempt to overthrow the country’s dictator, Fidel Castro. The plan failed within three days.

By April 19, 1961, the Cuban government had captured or killed the invading exiles, and Kennedy was forced to negotiate for the release of the 1,189 survivors. After twenty months, Cuba released the captured exiles in exchange for $53 million worth of food and medicine.

When the invasion had failed, many felt Kennedy was guilty of doing something terribly wrong, and more than a few insults were being hurled at him. However, when he went before the press, he took responsibility for the failure, and pledged to take several specific steps to make sure that what happened would never happen again. Immediately afterwards his approval rating spiked, going up to 83 percent, the highest level of his presidency.

Responsibility-LincolnFrom my own experience, I have learned that using a similar type of response can be very helpful. When I find that someone has a conflict with me because of something that I have done, I have often been able to turn those angry feelings that come along with a conflict into a respectful resolution by making it clear that I recognize my responsibility in what happened and I plan to take some action to improve.

Returning to Einstein, let us ask, what was it about this man who lived many years ago and somehow still captures the respectful imagination of so many of us? Surely, his awe-inspiring achievements in science is a major reason for this. But today, I would like to ask whether it has, as well, something to do with his profound sense of responsibility to his fellow human beings, a sense of responsibility that led him to set aside, for periods of time, his passionate interest in his research so that he might speak out against injustice, and to put forth his vision for a more peaceful world.

Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.

Comics, Conflicts and the Desire to be Liked
Bob Dylan On the Devil

About the Author

Jeffrey Rubin grew up in Brooklyn, received his PhD from the University of Minnesota and has taught conflict resolution there as well as at a psychiatric clinic, a correctional facility and a number of public schools. He has published articles on anger and conflict resolution and has authored three novels.


  1. I have found this model useful myself. You have presented it in a interesting and fun way which put a smile in and on me for this morning. Thanks.

    • Hi Don Duits, I very much appreciate your kind words of support. Glad to hear you found the post useful, interesting and fun. I’m hoping you check out some of the other posts here at “From Insults to Respect.” If you do, I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.
      My Best,

  2. I am ever so thankful that I happened across your posts. I recently have found myself desiring some change in my child’s school, but have begun to become discouraged that I will see any true implementation of change. While the principal is very accommodating at listening to concerns or suggestions on a one to one level; most of the discussions end with a promise to look into the matter further without a certain timeframe given or a follow-up as to any progress with the issues at hand. If things continue in this manner, it is possible that the school year will simply end and the program remain the same. The only change being that my child will advance to another grade in the same school and the need for change never be truly addressed. I want and have tried to be as positive and supportive as possible; however they simply seem to placate rather than create meaningful change. Unfortunately, the teacher seems highly offended, as a result of my voicing any concerns. I fear I am dealing with a highly defensive person in the teacher and a highly skilled politician in the principal. Do you have any advice for how to go about such matters within a school setting in a way in which my child nor I will be targeted as I have been warned may occur by many people I have sought advice from?

    • Hi Catia Plascencia, changing what happens at a school can indeed be challenging.

      You asked for some advice on how to deal with a principal who appears to agree with you about the change you have been advocating, and what to do about a teacher who is highly defensive. Each situation is so different so I’ll throw out a few ideas, although it may miss the mark for what might make sense to you.

      First, see if you can identify some other parents who agree with the change you want, and advocate that they come with you to a meeting with the principal. The more parents that you can get to join you, the better chance for success.

      Second, since the principal agrees with you about the need for the change you are advocating, follow his or her agreement with a request that we now move toward coming up with a specific plan to implement the change. Begin this process by first asking the principal what plan he or she would suggest. Find some merit in the plan, and only then suggest some ways that the plan can be tweaked to make it better. Advocate that the plan have a timeline for action steps to be completed.

      Finally, insist on a follow-up meeting. If the principal knows that your group will be coming to another meeting that has been scheduled, this will motivate him or her to follow through with the plan.

      As for the defensive teacher, once the principal agrees with a very specific plan, he or she can give the teacher a directive to follow through with the plan. If the teacher doesn’t follow through, he or she would be insubordinate, which is one of the few ways a teacher can be fired in today’s educational environment.

      I hope you find these suggestions helpful.
      My Best,

      • You are right on. The mark and it makes absolute sense. Thank you so much. I’m extremely grateful for the advice. Your blogs are very thoughtfully presented in a practical manner that people can relate to easily. I’m enjoying them thoroughly. The DIG has helped me relate to my family’s needs and has helped me gather my thoughts and calmly evaluate the school situation and address issues.

  3. Very informative

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