I recently heard about a college president who took time during the opening faculty meeting to attack two former professors. These former faculty members left the school two and three years previous, but their memories were shamed in a feeble attempt to divert blame for the school’s problems away from the administration. How pitiful that someone would construct bogeymen from the past instead of working on the task at hand.
I was immediately reminded of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Most of us know the story. The animals rebelled against their cruel farmer and instituted a collective for the good of all animals. Eventually, however, the pigs take charge and become just as bad, and in some ways worse, than the old cruel farmer.
In the story, two pigs, Napoleon and Snowball, vie for leadership of this new collective, and Napoleon eventually succeeds in exiling Snowball. But Napoleon’s leadership does not bring prosperity and comfort. When the farm experiences a major setback, it’s Snowball’s fault, even though he no longer lives there. In spite of his absence Snowball becomes a convenient scapegoat for Napoleon, so he can deflect criticism from his own poor leadership. Orwell writes, “Whenever anything went wrong it became usual to attribute it to Snowball.”
The irony is that Snowball was a hero before his expulsion, but Napoleon systematically vilifies him and robs him of all honor. One of those college professors was respected and honored by students, faculty, and administration before he left, but now he’s a Snowball.
As I thought about this sad situation, other examples of this “Snowball Syndrome” came to mind. American politicians are especially good at finding a Snowball behind every failed policy, but plenty of examples exist in the business world too.
As I thought about it, I realized that other people aren’t the only ones looking for Snowball. I do it too. When faced with a problem, my heart never wants to own up to it. I do not want to admit to myself that I’m the cause. I immediately look for Snowball.
My children make the easiest Snowball. Whatever my failure at hand, it is convenient to point out how they were complicit. If only they weren’t so noisy I would have gotten a lot more writing done. If only they hadn’t turned on the TV, I would have gotten those assignments graded. If only . . .
Sometimes I make a Snowball out of my parents. If only they had done this when I was growing up, then maybe I would have turned out like that. A boss makes a great Snowball too. My circumstances conspire against me, and someone else is always the author of those circumstances. But Snowball is a lie. Snowball didn’t do any of those things that Napoleon accused him of, and it isn’t my children’s fault when I don’t meet my writing goal.
Sometimes the enemies are real, and they really are trying to tear us down. But all too often we use those enemies as a crutch to cover our own faults. It’s hard to attack the real enemy if we’re operating under false intelligence.
The cure for “Snowball Syndrome,” as best I can tell, is confession. I need to be honest enough to speak the truth. I need to admit that I’m my own worst enemy. Snowball is such a comforting person to have around because he keeps things from being my fault. Honesty is hard, and I’m such a good liar that I don’t even know when I’m lying to myself. There’s ultimately only one hope for blaming others. I cast myself on God’s mercy, pleading that he will melt all my Snowballs.