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“The responsibility is all yours. No one can stop you from being honest or straightforward.”
— Marcus Aurelius
Do you own your actions? Do you graciously accept the consequences of your choices? When you make a mistake do you try to cover it up? Today I want to talk about the idea that to have more control over your life, you need to accept responsibility for everything you do.
“There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences.”
— P. J. O’Rourke
How often do we blame our behavior on something outside of ourselves? For example, maybe we tell a person we’re arguing with that if they had not done or said something then we would not have gotten angry? And the thing is, our language, at least English, is full of phrases that help reinforce this way of thinking. For example, how many times have you said that someone “made you angry” or “something upset you”? Do they really have the power to turn your emotions on or off?
We even see this in our leaders and public figures. I mean how many times have we seen a politician make up all kings of excuses or use phrases like “mistakes were made” as a way to distance themselves from a bad situation? Even worse is when they try to blame a whole group of people, such as immigrants, a racial group, or other political party for why things are wrong. Part of leadership is to step up and take responsibility.
Another way that we avoid responsibility is when we say we “had no choice” to do what we did. We always have a choice. We may not like the choices that we have before us, but we always have a choice. Every time we point to some reason outside ourselves of why we made a choice, we are reacting and not responding. Every time we blame something outside of ourselves, we give up control and lessen our power in our own lives. When we own up to every time we make a choice, and we accept the responsibility, we gain some power.
“Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.”
— Sigmund Freud
Why do we Shift Blame?
Why do we blame others for our mistakes? Why do we shift the blame for things outside of ourselves? One reason is we don’t like to look at our own shortcomings. Our ego doesn’t like the fact that we might not be as great as we think we are, and I’ll tell you something – you aren’t as perfect as you think you are. And that’s okay. You don’t need to be perfect.
Another reason is that it is just easier to blame someone else because you don’t have to repair things. You don’t have to fix what you messed up. You can just blame it on someone else, and by doing so, you don’t have to put in any work. You don’t have to make amends or change what you’re doing.
Shifting blame can also give you an excuse to continue with your unacceptable behavior. If the reason for your behavior is outside of yourself, then there is nothing you can do to fix it, so you can carry on with your shitty behavior.
What Happens When We Avoid Responsibility?
When we don’t take responsibility for the things that happen in our lives, then we don’t have control of our lives. We are always being acted upon, making ourselves helpless, and choosing to be victims. When we take responsibility for our lives, then we are in control of our lives. The more responsibility we take for ourselves, the more power we have. External things have much less control over us.
One of the worst side effects of avoiding responsibility is damage it causes to personal relationships. When people feel like you are not taking responsibility for your feelings and actions and that you blame them or always have excuses, it erodes trust. When we accept responsibility for ourselves, then others can rely on us to pull our weight, and they're usually more willing to step up and help when we can’t.
Another downside to shifting blame is that it damages our careers. If we’re always making excuses and never stepping up and taking responsibility for our part when things don’t go to plan, then our colleagues at work can’t rely on us. They can’t trust that we’ll step up and accept responsibility for our mistakes, and help fix those mistakes.
“A person conquers the world by conquering themselves.”
— Zeno of Citium
For those familiar with Spider-Man, one of the most iconic sayings in the Spiderverse comes from Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben. As a parental figure and role model for Peter, Uncle Ben tells Peter,
“With great power comes great responsibility.”
— Uncle Ben, Spider-Man
When Peter gets his Spidey powers, he uses this teaching as a guide for trying to use his power for good, and to step up when things are tough. And it is true – when you have great power, you have great responsibility. We see that Marcus Aurelius embraced this philosophy as emperor. He saw himself as a servant to his people, and not as a king to be served.
I want to take that idea though, and flip it on its head
“With great responsibility comes great power.”
The more we take responsibility for our thoughts, emotions, choices, and actions, the more control we have ourselves. The more control we have over ourselves, the more we can focus on being useful to others. The more we take on, the more power we have. If we are constantly leaving messes for others to clean up, then people won’t trust us, and the less they will want to work with us.
If you want to have great power in this life, take on more responsibility, especially for your own thoughts, choices, and actions. Build a resilient foundation, so you can take on bigger challenges. When shit gets hard, you’ll be able to stick things out rather than falling apart when a challenge comes your way. If you are constantly shifting blame for things outside yourself, then you are never actually fixing the problems and issues in your life.
So how do we become more responsible for our lives?
First, we accept that we blame things outside of ourselves. (See what I did there?) If we can acknowledge that we shift the blame, then we notice when we do it.
We listen to how we speak. If we say something like, “I did this because John made me angry”, we’re putting the blame for our feelings and actions on someone else.
We stop complaining. When we complain, we’re blaming our unhappiness on things outside of ourselves. Plus, no one likes to hear you complain.
We stop making excuses. Every time we make an excuse, we are avoiding responsibility. For example, if we’re late for dinner, don’t complain about traffic. Own that you didn’t leave enough time. The traffic may have been bad, but we own our part in not adding some time into our travel plan. We own the things we can control.
We keep our promises. Now why is this one important? When we come up with excuses because we failed to keep our promises and commitments, we’re trying to get out of being held responsible. The more we can set and keep our commitments, the more others trust us, and the more we self respect we have for ourselves.
Know what you want in life. If you know what you want in your life, you know the life you want to live, and you act accordingly. Your actions are in line with who you want to be. You accept responsibility for what happens because you are owning choices and actions and the consequences.
Taking responsibility for your choices and actions is hard, but the more you work on doing so, the more power that you have over your life. It means that others can trust you. By owning your mistakes, taking responsibility for your choices and actions, you take control of your life.
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