Responsibility is a big word with life long effects. If your child can learn this one word and all the things it means, you will have given them freedom. Or maybe you need some freedom for yourself.
The cages people live in aren’t usually acknowledged or seen. If the bars are visible, the prisoner usually tells everyone, “oh, I stopped trying to break out, there’s nothing I can do about it.” There are plenty of people in this world that have to be overweight, poor, beaten down, & imprisoned. There are far more prisoners of self-victimization. The latter folks refuse to see a way out because they are scared of being guilty, afraid of failure, or addicted to pity. Responsibility is the anti-dote to all of this.
When I’m responsible for my actions I can change them, learn from them, ditch them, keep them, or apologize for them. I don’t have to be at the mercy of people who would remind me of the past. I own my past mistakes proudly because I’ve used them to move forward. I don’t have to feel ashamed because I already made apologies and amends. Since I’m responsible for my emotions, I don’t have to react if someone else holds a grudge or expects me to continuously feel guilty. I’m free to go as far as I can persist and work and dream towards.
If you know what responsibility is, you have already accepted that you are 100% responsible for everything that happens to you. If you’re totally pissed off by that statement, you’re still confusing responsibility with fault. You are never 100% at fault, you are always 100% responsible.
- Fault is about the past
- It looks for who is guilty
- It blames and shames
- It “solves” the problem by finding a culprit and demanding restitution
- Fault feels like a weight while you wait for someone else to make you feel better
- No one will ever find enough fault to change their current situation
- Fault finds and creates victims
- Responsibility is about the future you want
- It looks for what can change
- It asks for help and forms partnerships
- It solves the problem by learning, change, hard work, and courage
- Responsibility feels like a work out and it makes you a stronger, more confident person
- Anyone can change what they are willing to take responsibility for
- Responsibility is found by survivors who go on to become winners
Now that you want this, let’s learn how to do it. Responsibility is a three part approach to your own bad behavior, the trash your neighbor put in your yard, your weight problem, your bad marriage, etc. When you’re teaching children about it, start with their bad behavior first and then move on to situations that someone else caused or triggered.
- Accept/Admit. “I did that.” “I broke that window.” “I’m going to die if I keep eating like this.” “I hate my job and I feel trapped.” “I haven’t spoken to my spouse with love in years.” “I’m stuck in an abusive relationship.” This is the point where you allow yourself to see the situation clearly. It can be painful so take it in small steps if you need to. If you’re teaching a child, have them repeat a simple phrase after you and then compliment them.
- Amend/Apologize. “I’ve taken over for the old boss and I’d like to make things right with your department.” “I didn’t cause this problem, but I have the power to make it right.” “I realize what I did hurt you and I won’t do that again.” “I won’t allow another person to treat me that badly in the future.” “I’m sorry.” The person you may have to make amends to can also be you. We allow some serious crap in our lives when we don’t realize our own value. Apologize to yourself and then allow some forgiveness. You did the best you could at the time and now you know better. When you’re teaching children, ask them who was hurt by what they did. You may have to help them by asking, “How would you feel?” Be prepared to go slowly and repeat often.
- Adapt/Advance. “I can aim the ball away from the house next time.” “I promise myself that I will eat a vegetable with each meal.” “I learned from what happened and here’s what I’m doing differently now.” “I will make small goals out of this big goal until everything is done.” “I will deal with the issues that have been holding me back.” This is where your future gets a turbo-charge. You look forward and plan a new attack using the information you’ve gathered from the first two steps. If you’re teaching children, ask them what they would do differently, or what would let everyone feel like a winner. If you’re learning to do this for yourself, fill in this blank; Today, I can ______________ to make tomorrow better. You might find yourself filling that in with one word or several paragraphs and either way works. Just make sure that you are acting on it as soon as possible and right now would be even better.
One more note. If you make an apology, don’t get caught up in thinking that’s always about admitting you’re at fault. Apologies do three things. They state wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness (the one everyone thinks of when they hear the words, “I’m sorry”).
Apologies are a treaty that states you understand the pain/trouble/ aggravation caused by an action and agree not to do it again. You don’t admit you’re a horrible person who meant to harm the other person, just that you see their point of view enough to change your behavior.
And sometimes sorry just means you really feel the other person’s pain and want to express solidarity with them. Know what you mean by your words and make the apology that’s needed for the situation. If someone misunderstands you, explain what you can but remember you’re only responsible for your own emotions and behavior.