Bruce's Blog


Out of Control - Part 2

May 20th, 2013

Taking Responsibility

Remember the Family Circus cartoons where "Nobody" and "I Don't Know" were the two invisible children who were always responsible when Mom or Dad asked the little ones "Who broke the lamp?" or "Who ate the last cookie?" That kind of responsibility shirking doesn't just go away with chronological maturity.

Who's responsible?

My latest posting spoke of two things we cannot really control, other people and circumstances of life. There are some things we can control though, our own responses and our initiatives.

Here are some myths that it might be helpful for us to chip away until they are gone.

I couldn't help it. 

This usually means that, given the provocation and my reaction to it, this is the inevitable result. Violence  of any kind falls into this category. "He made me angry, so I slapped him. I couldn't help it." Are you sure? With some practice or anger management training or other preparation, could talking the issue through, offering other options, or calling on someone else's arbitration have been more successful in accomplishing your purpose than was slapping?

That's just my personality. 

Is it? Do you have other personality traits you have changed because they resulted in unhealthy consequences for you? Is this one really just something that needs adjustment to help you to achieve your goals.

My family taught me to react this way. 

Certainly upbringing is important to the way we relate as adults. Our family dynamics are the norm for us in childhood. Eventually we notice that not all family units are the same. Then we can distinguish the helpful from the harmful ways our upbringing dictated. With some attention to these (and sometimes with professional help) we can choose healthy ways of relating to others.

"The devil made me do it," comedian Flip Wilson used to tell us. It is a religious variant on "I couldn't help it." There is this evil tempter who deceives us into doing things we would never  have done. This device was popularized in the Jewish story of Adam, Eve and the talking serpent. It is typically the reason I have that piece of gooey wonderful cake that called my name until I succumbed.

The other side of the story is that it must have been in God's plan.

Poor God gets blamed for so much. Heaven must be filled with thunderous "Who me?"s. 

We really are ultimately responsible for our own actions.

As tough as it might seem to make changes in ourselves, our own attitudes and philosophies, it is more practical to work at that than to exert our energy trying to change other people.

What matters enough to continue in spite of opposition?

On the other hand, it is just as important to understand when we are working for something that really is important, just, life-changing, earth-shaking. For these things we are responsible to continue to speak and do. You've heard of "choosing your battles"? These choices come clearer after much reflection, counsel and soul-searching. Those actions are also our responsibility. They shouldn't be taken abruptly and spontaneously and then set in concrete so there is no room for growth or changing understanding.

Most of the time "Nobody" and "I Don't Know" are not only invisible, but also unsuitable creatures to be blamed for our actions.

How can you tell when something is important enough to confront or promote and when compromise or even change is the better course of action? Please comment. I really want to know.

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