“Taking responsibility” seems to be an over-used phrase? It is used to generally inform people that they have to “grow up”. It almost implies wrongdoing. We are told that part of being on the planet entails taking responsibility for your actions and accepting the often dire consequences. The two scary words seem to pop up when we are required to be an “adult” and there is an expectation that we will be taking responsibility for our self, our partner, our children, our work commitments etc. It can seem like a heavy burden; it carries a lot of weight. For many people that weight is just too heavy to carry and we often try to shift responsibility to a higher power like God or fate. Another trick is to divert attention from our own bad behavior, by engaging in the blame game, where we heap all of the responsibility onto someone else.
We are always seeking to be the perfect person, entirely devoid of blame. Many of us we will go to any lengths to avoid ever taking responsibility but end up being weighed down by inactivity and frightened of our own life choices. But it is one of the yardsticks that we measure a successful life –the extent to which we are able to take full responsibility for the choices we have enacted. Everything we experience in the present is the sum total of the choices made in our past. Which means that the choices we make today will create our future.
Embracing Good Choices
Obviously, not everyone is a responsibility avoider. There are many examples of people positively co-creating their existence by taking responsibility through embracing the consequences of their actions and choices. The power to affect a positive or negative outcome in our lives starts and stops with us. The emotional states that we have to work through start with an acknowledgment of our part in creating them. It all starts with making conscious, good choices for yourself so that you can accomplish all of the dreams you hold dear to your heart.
“A man sooner or later discovers that he is the master-gardener of his soul, the director of his life” James Allen
Taking responsibility can also be a relational act. When you are responsible for someone there is a two-place relation to the equation which becomes slightly more complex. This relational aspect of responsibility was put forward by logician J.M. Bochenski. His theory revolves around an expectation of an action or specific result which someone then has to justify according to a certain set of societal standards or norms. We can also put the philosopher, Immanuel Kant’s ideas on moral responsibility into the mix. He states that we always strive for the highest value of humankind. Of course, there is not only one form of taking responsibility. We are involved not only in our own actions but also taking responsibility in the legal, task and role realm as well as the aforementioned “moral” responsibility.
“The greatest day in your life and mine is when we take total responsibility for our attitudes. That's the day we truly grow up.” John C. Maxwell
Handing Over to Higher Powers
We have to be wary of outsourcing our responsibility to external sources. When you choose to use the phrase, “It’s God’s will” we think that lets us off the hook of our part in the unfolding events of our lives. Personal responsibility starts in our own bodies and in our psyches. If we hand over our responsibility, we are engaging in a form of extreme passivity which diminishes your life potential. You might not be honoring your creator if all you are doing is sitting on your couch waiting for life to create opportunities for you and clean up any relationship challenges. You have to be an active participant in any relationship –whether with God, your family or your self.
Nothing Bad Ever Happens to Good People?
We can be tempted to naively think that if we are good people and do “good” deeds everything in our lives will turn out for the better. We know that this is only wishful thinking as being a kind human being doesn’t mean that you will be immune to disappointment, loss or failure. Your goodness will not be able to save you from a terminal illness, retrenchment, a loss of a loved one or a relationship failure. Our chosen attitude towards these unforeseen events is the determining factor to being able to move positively forward in our lives despite the seemingly impossible roadblocks.
When Inner Fears Choose Your Attitudinal Response
The attitude we have to respond to crisis and the way that we internalize that adversity is formed through our overarching belief system. We have learned in our lives how to respond to external events or triggers and sometimes these choices do not serve us. When you understand how to truly take responsibility you also have the capacity to influence the events. Just because a situation is challenging, in the beginning, it doesn’t mean that it has to have a challenging outcome in the end.
Some people choose to get into the blame game apportioning their situation in life to someone’s else doing. They lean towards judging people for the situation they find themselves in.
Others will lay their problems at the feet of a higher power – “God’s will” and end up disengaging from making life choices because they feel paralyzed by the scale of their life events.
But we all have an extraordinary ability to find the lesson or value in the ever adverse situation we encounter if we choose to broaden our perspective of the situation. We are all such unique individuals and we each have our own process for internalizing challenges that face us. For many, they feel overwhelmed and on the verge of capsizing. Others feel that there is no way out of or through the situation. However, there are many people who actually become empowered when faced with extreme challenges or adversity – they actively seek solutions.
“When we can’t change the outcome, we are challenged to change ourselves” Viktor Frankl.
The Responsibility Taking Delusion
We witness how some people display a kind of delusion where they don’t ever take responsibility for their part in unfolding events. They have deep unconscious fears that surface to convince them that they are not in any way responsible for their actions or play any part in solving the issue.
Sometimes individual might react to these deep fears by actually blaming the victim for their current life circumstances to avoid taking responsibility for their own culpability in the event. Sadly, we see this example when in some sexual assault cases where the man will blame his attack on the women, as her fault, because she was wearing provocative clothing like a mini skirt. You will also see other people avoiding responsibility because they will have to get “permission” from their partners, who they fear unconsciously, and end up saying, “I would really like to help you in this situation but I am unable to at this time”.
Side-Stepping Indirect Responsibility
A key aspect of accepting responsibility is the journey we take to go beyond ourselves in order to help others with the right actions. This is also known as indirect responsibility. These actions reveal our character and the kind of person we are to the rest of humanity.
You might have also noticed how certain people sidestep taking responsibility for others when they end up giving someone in need items that they can’t use and don’t need. If the person in need then refuses the offer of help because it doesn’t actually help them the ‘giver’ sees this as confirmation that the person is not really in any need and they can be let off the hook of helping out. You might have seen the phenomenon where people will clean out their homes of things they don’t want and by giving them away think they are helping the recipients. Usually, the charity has to use up valuable time and resources trying to find a use for a lot of ‘junk’ left at their doorsteps to “help”. This obviously doesn’t help the charity with their primary needs.
Big Bank Balance, Responsibility Deficit
If we have the means to contribute to society we should try and help out our fellow man. Many people avoid this at all costs. You might even see how certain wealthy people end up casting blame on the person in need for not contributing. This is how they justify their lack of participation in taking responsibility for the people who work hard for them for a pittance. It’s often with disbelief that we hear someone say they don’t have the means to help people when their bank balances tell a different story. Their own inner fears of not having “enough” have risen to the surface and they can’t get past the illusion of their perceived hardship. These fears help them to bypass ever taking responsibility for the people around them.
Don’t Worry the Government Will Sort It Out
Responsibility is also avoided when we fail to show the world as it is and instead paint every situation as “good” news even though the area is experiencing horrific trauma. We put on our rose tinted glasses and see the world as we wish it to be and so don’t respond to the real needs. The most common responsibility avoidance tactic is to imagine that the government is going to take care of it and we do not have to do anything of significance because it will all be taken care of by someone else.
Turning A Blind Eye
We will see the military violence caused by our own country and turn a blind eye to the atrocities while still paying taxes to finance the daily horrors. We abscond from our moral obligations to humankind and give over our responsibility to the military. We know that our environment is in serious trouble but we continue to pollute the atmosphere with our excessive reliance on fossil fuels. We continue to be responsible for more carbon emissions due to our greedy consumption.
When we buy products that are really cheap we let ourselves forget that they have been created due to the exploitation of other human beings working impossible hours under the harshest conditions. You will notice throngs of people being outraged by a plethora of global issue but never being part of taking responsibility to solve them. We put our blinkers on and turn a blind eye even when those problems are happening under our own roof’s.
“Life has many ways of testing a person’s will, either by having nothing happen at all or by having everything happen all at once.” –Paulo Coelho
How Are We Complicit?
We must start to evaluate our own levels of complicity in responsibility avoidance and choose a few battles we can take part in to transform our world positively. But most people don’t and won’t. Humanity could experience a vital transformation if we all started taking responsibility in a few of these areas in our lives.
In therapy sessions, I am always seeking to strengthen my client’s inner courage reserves and assisting with nurturing their spirits by eradicating self-harming suppressed fears. It all starts with embracing the journey of taking responsibility.
I leave you with a quote from Buber:
“Every person born into this world represents something new, something that never existed before, something original and unique”.
So take responsibility for this ultimate gift.