The RNC this week has really brought home how our society has veered into blame and obstruction of anyone or anything that doesn’t fit our values. (And I’m guessing the DNC next week may not be much different).
I keep hearing cries of making America great again, and wanting to go back to the way things were. My belief when I hear this is that people want to go back to a time when white straight males had all the power. Well, I’m old. I grew up in the 50’s & 60’s, and I remember those times. They weren’t much better than things are now, unless you’re a straight, white male who feels disenfranchised because there are other groups who are gaining some personal power and ability to move up corporate and social ladders. (I don’t mean to imply that all straight white males feel this way. I know many who recognize moving forward is a positive direction)
But there is one thing that I see that was better back then. Adults seemed to have the ability to be more respectful to each other, and not play immature games of putting each other down if they disagreed. These days, seeing others as equal human beings is being touted as “political correctness.” By using that phrase, it seems to give the speaker permission to continue with racial and derogatory remarks. Not that there wasn’t racism and inequality in the past. We all know that has always, and will, in the foreseeable future, be an issue. But I do wish we could go back to an atmosphere of decorum.
I believe we each need to take personal responsibility for our own lives, and I encourage that with my clients.
Some people get it pretty early and become active in confronting their issues – acknowledging and accepting the reality of what is going on. Once they accept reality, they can move on and feel better relatively quickly.
Others take a little longer, and I can usually tell if that is going to be the case during the first session. How? Much like our elected officials, they are more comfortable with “blame” than with “responsibility”. They blame others for their problems, or they blame themselves and continually beat themselves up emotionally, staying caught up in the intellectual violence of their story. They are more invested in being “right” than in being happy and peaceful. This keeps them entrenched in the problem, and unless they get out of that mindset, the problem wins – nothing changes – or it gets worse.
Blame is defined as “the action of assigning responsibility for a fault”. The use of the word “fault” implies the negativity of blaming, whether it’s blaming someone else or ourselves.
Responsibility is “the state of being accountable for something; the opportunity or ability to act independently and make decisions without external authorization”. Another definition: “a moral obligation to behave correctly toward or in respect of . . .”
Responsibility starts with the willingness to experience ourselves as the cause. Responsibility is not a burden, fault, praise, blame, credit, shame or guilt. As implied in the above definition of blame, all of these include judgments and evaluations of good and bad, right and wrong or better and worse. They are not responsibility.
Responsibility also begins with the ability to deal with a situation from the point of view, whether conscious or not, that we are each the source of what we are, what we do, and what we have. This point of view can even extend to include what is done to us – from the perspective that we all put ourselves into situations or around people that will take advantage of us – or around those who will respect and honor us. I understand that this can be viewed as a controversial topic, and won’t go too far into this aspect of it. Certainly I’m not saying that victims of abuse (for example) are responsible for their own abuse and the perpetrator has no responsibility. What I am saying is that we develop patterns from early childhood that draw us to specific situations and people that can eventually be unhealthy for us. In order to break these patterns, we must recognize this and work to understand what within us needs to change.
So again, responsibility is a context of seeing ourselves as the source of our attitudes, feelings, behavior and life. If we are the source, then we are at least able to manage how these turn out. We cannot be responsible for others, but we can be responsible to others, for who we are and for our response to others.
I want to believe that most of our elected officials started out responsibly wanting to improve things, regardless of their politics. But somewhere many of them lost sight of the difference between responsibility and blame. Maybe we need to require them to take an emotional stability test before they’re allowed to run for office?
Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson