Acting Responsibly Unveils our Potential*
By Sarah Newman
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” — William Shakespeare
We all know someone who chronically avoids responsibility. Things just happen to them — nothing they did contributed to their circumstances. They were late because there was traffic, not because they didn’t leave earlier. They didn’t drop the ball at work; nobody else stepped up either. Someone “just stopped talking” to them; it has nothing to do with them being a bad friend.
These people have an external locus of control, meaning they don’t feel they can influence the environmental factors that affect their lives. It’s just simply luck. Their lives are determined by fate.
In reality, our locus of control is somewhere in between internal and external. We can’t control everything and it’s an exercise in futility to try. But we aren’t helpless and our actions actually carry a considerable amount of weight. In fact taking responsibility — keeping our promises, fulfilling our duties, and owning the decisions we make — opens up a wide array of possibilities in our lives. Responsibility is power, so it’s a wonder why anyone would avoid it.
During election season you constantly see politicians denying or making excuses for decisions they made in the past. Rarely does anyone actually say, “Yes, I was wrong” or “Yes, I screwed up.” How startling would it be to see a politician actually admit that they’ve made some mistakes? That through experience they’ve learned and grown wiser? Who could expect the leader of the free world to be fallible?
Responsibility leads to emotional competency and autonomy. Instead of laying blame and taking the easy way out, a responsible person has to think through alternative ways of dealing with things. They are curious and open-minded because they need new perspective to make choices. They are also proactive and heroic — responding when they feel a call to action. Rather than obligation, responsibility leads to freedom. It means you’re “the decider” rather than being at the mercy of those around you.
Of course making decisions and fulfilling your duties can always result in making a mistake. What if you make the wrong decision? The responsible person knows that you have to take the good with the bad. There is no forward-momentum without decision-making.
A responsible person is resilient and bounces back from missteps because without mistakes there is no wisdom. Without wisdom there is no competency. Without trial and error there is no courage or integrity.
Refusing to accept responsibility requires a great deal of manipulation. You either have to assign blame or play the victim. You have to show that it’s everyone else’s fault or posture like you just can’t get a break. It means always having an excuse, always scape-goating others, and never saying “I’m sorry.”
In the end, shrugging off responsibility takes just as must energy as accepting responsibility. It’s so damaging to relationships and their very foundation is full of holes. How many times can you disappoint someone, offering your go-to excuse, and expect them to continue opening themselves up to you? Inconsiderate people aren’t the most popular folks, at least not for long.
Don’t be a politician. The next time you feel the need to make an excuse, why not empower yourself by accepting responsibility instead of giving it away? It might be a little uncomfortable at first, but it’s ultimately easy to do.
I’ll leave you with the words of Viktor Frankl,
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”