Response-Ability – How we make ourselves victims without realizing it

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You create your world. Why not own it?

RESPONSE-ABILITY

One of the trends I find alarming in our current culture is the reluctance of people to take responsibility or to respond with care to each other. I hear a lot of self-justification, mind-reading, defensiveness, blaming and complaining; which is why relationships, friendships, business connections and day-to-day living are not going well for a lot of people. Their lives are not about trying to understand their own role in the problem so they can deal with it effectively, but to push the responsibility off onto someone or something else, and avoid it. 

The problem with this kind of thinking is that each of us gets the results of what we do or don’t do, whether we try to blame someone else, ignore the problem or run away from it. No matter what, sooner or later, the problem lands right back in our laps, usually made worse by the avoidance. Often, in an attempt to avoid responsibility, we try to control someone else and make the problem theirs. 

Who’s in control; and whose problem is it?

Most of us feel more comfortable being in control of the situations we’re in, so much so, that we often pretend we’re in control when we’re really not, or try to control situations that we cannot reasonably handle. 

Remember, you are never in control of another person, even if it seems that you are and that they wish you to be. You can’t control who you’ll meet, when or where you’ll meet them, how anyone else will feel, or what they’ll do.

Self-control is the only real control you have. However, it is all the control you’ll need. By taking responsibility for your own actions, words, and reactions, you can greatly stack the odds in your own favor. I think of responsibility as response-ability: the ability to respond to life, people and events. While you may not be responsible for most of what happens, you are completely responsible for your reaction to what is happening. For example, if you are out with a new person and that person acts in some rude, uncaring or unacceptable manner, you have the ability to respond in many ways.

But if we don’t like something, the knee-jerk reflex in our society is to blame something or someone else. “My life is ruined because my parents weren’t attentive.” “I’m not doing well at work because my boss is a jerk.” Rather than taking responsibility, we position ourselves as victims, the effects of someone or something else. In so doing, we’ve set ourselves up as powerless.

Whenever you’re in a difficult situation, you can react irresponsibly, getting defensive, angry or running away. Many people do this without thinking, and it makes the situation worse. The response-able person will consider his or her options. Think about what your responsibility is in this situation, and take charge of your words and actions. If you respond thoughtfully and with integrity and honor, most other people will calm down and interact with you on that higher level. Being response-able means using all your self-control, skill and knowledge to take care of yourself, even when it’s difficult.

“Although you may not always be able to avoid difficult situations, you can modify the extent to which you can suffer by how you choose to respond to the situation.”
― Dalai Lama XIVThe Art of Happiness

The Rewards Of Not Taking Responsibility

We live in a society that actually rewards not being responsible in some contexts more than being responsible. When you are rewarded for being irresponsible, you perpetuate it. “Who do we blame? “How can we get some money from them?” And, “How do I make sure I maintain that state of being not-responsible?” “Because if I become responsible for my life, I will lose all the benefits of being at effect.”  A life lived in fulfillment and joy is a life lived by being at cause.

For example, someone may stay in an abusive relationship feeling victimized because she/he gets sympathy from friends because of it, or maybe even an invitation to be on Dr. Phil! This is what’s called secondary gain. Psychology talks about secondary gain a lot these days because people receive benefit from having a problem that outweighs getting rid of the problem. So they’re better off keeping their problems, and it’s easier to keep your problems if you don’t claim any responsibility for them. A life lived in fulfillment and joy is a life lived by being at cause.

The Benefits Of Response-Ability

If you’re over 21, you’re an adult—like it or not. That means you are responsible for everything you say and do, and you are in charge of yourself and your life. Love is one of the areas of life where many of us have trouble remembering that we are adults, with responsibility.

Realize that you are the creator of your experiences.  And if you want a different result, you are the one who can – and must – cause it to be different.

For many people, this is a radical way to see the world and their lives. On the one hand, it’s a great freedom to know that you really are in control, that you really are the cause – not the victim – of events in your life.  At the same time, it can feel like a lot of responsibility. For some people, overwhelming and confusing: “How could I have possibly caused that?!?”

Often, people react to the idea of responsibility as they would to the words “fault” or “blame”; as though saying “you’re responsible for your life” means “you should feel guilty about your life.” This sense of responsibility is childlike. It reacts and responds as though an angry parent were standing over you saying “Who’s responsible for this mess?”.

Adult responsibility is something else altogether. It is really response-ability; that is, the ability to respond to life. Rather than placing blame, this way of thinking acknowledges personal power. Response-ability is the capacity to choose. Out of many possible responses, I can always choose the one I make. Response-ability is remembering to be in charge and make careful, thought-out choices.

What seems hard at first for most people is understanding the need to take this kind of responsibility. The expression “taking responsibility” is ironically misleading, because actually, we have no choice. We are always responding to situations, even if our response is to do nothing. It does little good to worry about what other people are choosing because you really haven’t any say about it. Your responsibility is to take care of yourself; no one else can do that for you. 

When you respond with the best of your ability, and accept and handle whatever consequences you have helped to create, you not only benefit from your choices, but your life and relationships will improve immensely.

Generation B for Blame: Waiting on the World to Change

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A Millennial friend of mine whose empathetic perspective I admire and never tire of recently posted this:

“Hi, millennials! We don’t like being judged and having older generations throwing their crap at us. So idea: Let’s not do that to future younger generations. Break the cycle. Next idea: Stop blaming older generations for our current problems. Yeah, maybe they messed things up, but hey we’re gonna mess stuff up, too. And I know I certainly don’t want to be judged and blamed by future generations for the election of that monster we call Trump. Because you know that very well could be our legacy, right? RIGHT?”

As an (older) dad of a Gen Z eleven-year-old girl, having essentially skipped a generation, (god, I hope that “Z” classification doesn’t mean she’ll be the last generation on the planet!) I feel generational blame rather keenly.  And so I offer my perspective to that of my friend, and for her friends.

Every generation
Blames the one before,
And all of their frustrations
Come beating on your door.
-Mike & the Mechanics

Those that came of age in the 60’s and 70’s are the worst critics of those who came of age in the 00’s and 10’s, but their reasons may surprise you.

The ’60/’70 Gen, the children of the post-WWII generation were the “hippies and radicals” that would ruin society.  Judged more by the length of their hair and their music than their race or economic background, they were not just criticized by their elder generation, they were reviled and even hated–blamed for the destruction of all that they and their parents worked for.  It was far more than disapproval, it was war.  And it was ugly.  And think of the WWII Generation, they literally just saved the world and now these damn kids are going to ruin it!

Trump is most compared now to Nixon and for good reason.  For Gen ’60/’70, they killed Kennedy (their Obama) and gave them Nixon.  The parallels from then to now are truly astounding, and it looks for all the world that we haven’t gone anywhere.

Gen ’60/’70 fought, rebelled, and even died for their convictions for a free society and for open loving.  They accomplished quite a lot (more than they give themselves credit for), but not all.

They imagined a future for their children; a bright, caring, peaceful, (hairy) and loving future.  Those children are Gen ’00/’10, our Millennials.  I want you to know that you, my millennial friends, are their golden children.  The special ones who would live the beautiful lives that they dreamed for you.  (Unfortunately, they told you that a little too often.)

When they blame you, it’s not because they see you as failures, it’s because they saw you as their hope, one they blithely embraced and never stopped to doubt.  They look at you and say, “Why aren’t you living that life we wanted for you, what’s wrong with you?!”

You can’t be blamed for the life you have any more than they can be blamed for reaching too high for you.  The world is a tough place.

When your elders criticize you, [minus the perennial assholes of every generation] it is not the criticism of hate and derision that they once endured. No, and you must realize this; it is the criticism reserved for those we love and cherish and want the best for.  It isn’t right, but it’s human.

At the bottom of their anger and disappointment, is the fear that THEY have failed YOU.

Maybe the world still has Trumps and Nixons, maybe we still hate and kill each other.  But, what I wish I could tell your critical elders is that they did NOT fail their golden children.  Boomers, though they didn’t inherit the perfect world you promised to bring them, you did bring to the earth and rear a generation who believe in equality, who value peace, and who trust in love, just the way you hoped they would.  You persevered, and so will they.  Ease up.

I also harbor a hope that you, millennials, can reconsider your pre-contempt and distrust of your elders, who like you, took a naive shot at utopia and missed.  You are SO MUCH more alike than not.  I wish you could see yourselves from my eyes.  Anyone who is really paying attention knows, you already have what is most important.

And when the time comes, take my friend’s advice and cut the Gen Z a break.

PROTEST: Millennials find their purpose and define an era

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Strange how our values become galvanized when threatened.

So, we’ve somehow managed to elect the poster child of hapless, self-serving, demagoguery who has relit the old fire sticks of hatred, intolerance, and isolationism (as if they ever really went out).

So, we take to the streets and we protest.

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The Flower Power movement was birthed in Berkeley, California in the late 1960’s as means of symbolic protest against the Vietnam War. Beatnik writer Allen Ginsberg, promoted the use of “masses of flowers” to hand to policemen, press, politicians and spectators to civilly fight violence with peace.

Today reminds me SO MUCH of the nineteen sixties.  I remember the images of race riots, bloodied faces, nightsticks, state funerals of fallen leaders, Buddhist monks lighting themselves on fire.  Death by gun violence then was two points higher per 100,000 than it is today.  I was a few years too young (to my eternal gratitude), but the nation’s young were being forced from their homes, shoveled into boot camps and used as cannon fodder to fight an unjust war.

So, they took to the streets.

In 1967 they protested against violence and the war in Vietnam.

In 2017 they will protest against hatred and intolerance.

Flower 7.jpgWhen we were kids, whining was not tolerated in my family.  If my siblings or I cried too much about something that made us unhappy, we would hear that infamous question, “You want something to cry about? I’ll GIVE you something to cry about!” which was followed by a few swift smacks.  It was meant to force us to consider whining as a poor strategy, but it always made me think, “Great, now I have TWO things to cry about!”  Whining, you see, is complaint without action, and my parents couldn’t stand it.

The often-maligned Millennial, accused of laziness and whining, a generation coddled then forgotten, suddenly feels that sharp slap and the taste of iron in their mouths.

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Photograph by Jay L. Clendenin / LA Times 

Now it’s different, now it’s personal.  A once lost generation has found its purpose.

For someone like me, it is so deeply painful to watch innocence come of age in an ugly world, but it is equally inspiring.  What will they forge in their crucible?  What outcomes will they gain–for all of us.

Of all the images my young mind retained in that era, the most powerful and transformative one was the image of a flower stuck down the barrel of a gun.  It takes some balls to face down an adrenalin-bathed military guard with a bayonetted rifle pointed at your head and approach with nothing but a flower.  The symbology was perfect, “Make Love not War”, and the insight extraordinary in its time–You can’t fight violence with violence.  The message of Love did an end run around the mind of violence and spoke directly to the heart of peace.

flower 2 (1).jpgThe protests mattered, and we eventually won.

I’ve been stricken lately with how much the protesters today against ‘he who must not be named’ look like the protestors from 50 years ago.  They are just as brave, just as determined, and just as full of purpose.  There is a laser focus to their intention that reveals a beauty in them that has lain dormant until now.  Adversity reveals true mettle.

I hope they continue to know that you can’t fight hate with hate.

And we’re going to need more flowers.

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