Responsibility – Blame or Choice?


I feel like my recent posts have been vocabulary lessons. That was not my intent when I wrote last week’s post on validation but I must have a couple of important words on my mind.

This week’s word is “responsibility.” Believe it or not, the word responsibility has several definitions and is used in a wide variety of ways. For example:

  • The state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or of having control over someone – “parents have responsibility for their children”

Usually this form of responsibility is synonymous with words like authority, control, power, and leadership.

  • The state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something – “she held him responsible for the accident”

You will often hear words like blame, fault, guilt, and liability when people are talking about this definition of responsibility.

  • The opportunity or ability to act independently and make decisions without authorization – “my daughter has taken on more responsibility”

This definition of responsibility goes hand in hand with words like maturity, reliability, and dependability.

  • A moral obligation to behave correctly toward or in respect of – “he acted responsibly”

The phrase “common sense” comes to mind with this use of the word.

I consider the first two definitions to be external in nature. Having control over others or blaming others is looking outside of ourselves. It is possible for someone to take personal responsibility for something. Yet, more often than not, we spend all our time looking for others to take responsibility for something that has happened to us. We believe that life happens to us and that we are victims. We could be victims of what we perceive that others have done to us or we could be victims of circumstances. In any case, our society has become obsessed with holding others responsible.

What if we shifted our outside orientation of responsibility back to an internal one? What if we were fully able to respond to life instead of just react to it by asking ourselves “how am I contributing to this situation?” What if instead of associating responsibility with blame and criticism, we see it as an opportunity to reclaim our power and create a new state of mindfulness?

You might be saying, “wait a minute, Stacy. You’ve gotten all fluffy on me. What does responsibility have to do with mindfulness?”

When responsibility is externally focused, you give your power away to others. Just like seeking validation from others surrenders your power. When you shift responsibility to an internal orientation then you have the power to change the situation by choosing how to respond thus eliminating the victim mentality.

The easiest way to do this is to decide to be fully present. When you move away from fear, hurt, and disappointment to being present you are able to meet and engage life from a position of learning, curiosity, and growth. Seeking “what can I learn here” is being actively engaged. The opposite is to fold up and become stagnant.

Here’s a quick example. Let’s say you apply for a promotion that you don’t receive. You have two choices. You can be angry at whoever made the decision to not promote you and blame them for your lack of progress within your career. It’s easy to claim the other person has never liked you or everyone has it out for you. Or, you can ask yourself how you contributed to not receiving the promotion and figure out what you can learn from your experience. The key is to be ready to receive the information. But you must be present to do so. If you aren’t present and are instead in a place of blame, then you won’t know what you are supposed to be learning.

When you are committed to being responsible to how you respond to others, you don’t have time to stagnate. When you are committed to being responsible to how you respond to others, it becomes contagious and creates a ripple effect. Each interaction is an opportunity to give and receive love, acceptance, understanding, grace, and forgiveness. It’s also another opportunity to improve and grow.

Personal responsibility is created choice by choice. Responding after you’ve had a chance to reflect on what you can learn from the situation rather than just reacting is the mature and responsible way to live life.

Can you imagine how the world would change for the better if we spent less time blaming and criticizing and more time being responsible for how we interact and engage in life? That kind of world would be a wonderful place.


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