Responsible for Everything


Some useful thoughts are easily misconstrued into something quite controversial. Take, for instance, this statement:

We are completely responsible for everything that happens to us. 

At first encounter, this idea seems ludicrous. We, offended, say, “How could we possibly be responsible for everything that happens? Everything?! We have no control over the weather, the economy, our clients, our bosses, the diseases, or the bully in the school yard. We have no say in the random events that happen to us!” And we are completely justified when we push back saying, “Don’t blame the victim!”

Stay with me; there is useful wisdom in this controversial statement.

Our reaction to the “responsible for everything” statement comes from our understanding of the phrase. We hear it and think it implies blame, fault, and guilt. So we react strongly and it feels bad.

But there’s a better definition of “responsible for everything.” It points to a better way to deal with whatever happens to us at work and in life.

Let’s pretend for a moment that we can globally turn on or off the blame, fault, and guilt switches. If the switches are on, life is as we know it. If the switches are off, blame, fault, and guilt completely cease to exist. It’s not their fault or our fault because there is no fault. They are not to blame nor are we; blame doesn’t exist. No one, no group, no force is guilty since we’ve shut off the guilt tap.

If something bad happens while the blame, fault, and guilt switches are turned on, we spend our resources (time, energy, emotion, and effort) in not dealing with the problem but in casting or defending against blame, fault, and guilt. We are saying, “No.”

But when we shut the switches off, we get to apply those resources to effectively handle the problem. Instead of defensively reacting, we can respond creatively, wisely, appropriately, and completely. We say, “Yes.” Thus we are response-able. (Get it?) And it feels good.

The neat thing is that those switches do exist within each of us. Being responsible for everything that happens to us simply means we choose to shut off blame, fault, and guilt and handle of whatever situations arise.


In your corner,


PS: A slightly more advanced version of this statement is We are completely responsible for everything. Careful not to take this to mean that we are in charge of everything.

PPS: “Doesn’t a civil society rely on blame, fault, and guilt? Wouldn’t society fall apart without these acting to control things?” If we choose to drop blame, fault, and guilt but not pick up responsibility, then our lives and society would fall apart. Responsible replaces blame, fault, and guilt. We can not wean society off blame, fault, and guilt overnight. But as we choose responsibility over blame, fault, and guilt, we help others change by example.

PPPS: There is a Zen koan about this sort of responsibility: Is That So?


Today’s photo credit: Ged Carroll cc

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