Yes, We Are Responsible

There are a lot of things that happen in life for which we are not at fault but, WE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR EVERYTHING. Yes, everything. Wait, hear me out! Part of the privilege, and burden, of being a mindful human being is that we can choose how we react to ALL situations. We choose whether to take action, comment on, or even care. We are “response-able.” Being responsible doesn’t imply blame or fault, merely that you get to choose your reactions.

Let’s say you get robbed; your house burns down or, you lose your job. Does it matter who is at fault? You need to get down to business. Does attaching blame, pointing fingers or stamping our feet absolve us from the need to find a way to work through the problem? No. WE ARE RESPONSIBLE.

The famous football coach Lou Holtz once said, “Don’t tell your problems to people: eighty percent don’t care, and the other twenty percent are glad you have them.” Many people’s response to their troubles is to punish themselves further by stooping to self-pity, plotting revenge or withdrawing into themselves; sometimes all three at once. When they should be taking responsibility, they are reacting in ways that cause harm to themselves and those around them. They are the dog being wagged by the tail. We make the twenty percent of people who are glad we have the problems even happier by taking this tack. Want to make the haters miserable?; Exercise responsibility. Have a great life and ignore the critics.

Living in the 21st Century means that we are bombarded by a constant stream of information, much of it intended to spark an emotional response. That is what it is designed to do but, WE ARE RESPONSIBLE for our reaction. If you are affected by everything that enters your awareness, life will feel like you are perpetually trapped on a rollercoaster. Relax, let some things go and react only to those matters worthy of your attention. I am not saying don’t respond; I am saying use your response-ability and don’t get too worked up. Considering the amount of news and information we are bombarded with every day, sometimes the best response is no response at all.

There are some situations in which we powerless to change the circumstances. But, ultimately, WE are responsible for our reactions to those circumstances. We can let things outside of our control tear us apart. We can ineffectively and irrationally act out. We can stamp our feet and talk about how unfair something is but, do we want to be “that person”? Being responsible does not mean that we take unmeasured, or any, action. We have a choice. Do nothing, which is how to correctly respond to most data that comes our way.

In some of my previous writing, I have conflated responsibility with obligation, and although that isn’t precisely right, it is how the English language works (and I am not going to get too worked up about it). An obligation is a chore that we have a duty to perform. When we exercise our RESPONSIBILITY, we can decide if we want to take action or not; with true obligations, we have no choice. The point I am trying to get across is that, in any situation, we are answerable for our responses to any given situation.

We have all been in those social situations where we felt snubbed, overlooked or downright insulted. I know people that hold grudges for years over perceived social slights. Here is the truth; we will never be able to change what occurred but, WE ARE RESPONSIBLE. I am not saying forget about it because that is almost impossible. What I am saying is that only we can take responsibility for our reaction. Become ambivalent; don’t care; or if it suits us better, hold your breath and stamp our feet. As a wise person once said, “Your opinion of me is none of my business.”

I know this is mostly semantics, but I have found my life to be so much easier since I figured out that I have RESPONSE-ABILITY. Suffer a slight, an irrational response or an attack designed to be hurtful; it is best to take responsibility and not respond at all. See something that irritates you but can do nothing about; don’t let it bother you, you are responsible? Responding only to those things that matter, and those that we can influence frees up a lot of time and energy that otherwise could take up our valuable time or rob us of joy. Being RESPONSE-ENABLED works.

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Author: Jonathan Look

In 2011 Jonathan Look decided to change his life and pursue adventures instead of comfort and possessions. His goal is to travel the world solo; one country at a time, one year at a time. To accomplish this he got rid of most of his possessions, packed up what little he saw as necessities and headed out. His goal is to spend ten years discovering new places, meeting new people and taking the time to learn about them, their values and their place on this tiny planet. He embraces the philosophy that says a person is the sum of their experiences and rejects the fraud of modern consumerism that makes people into slaves of their consumption. He doesn't intend to be modern day ascetic, just more mindful of his place in the world and to make decisions according to that new standard.

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2 Comments

  1. This may be a case of semantics at work, but I disagree that we are “responsible for everything “. We may be responsible for our (voluntary) reactions to various stimuli, but for the stimuli itself? A driver mows you down in a crosswalk and you are responsible for that? I doubt it. There is a valuable insight here, but it is buried in overreach. (And I take responsibility for everything I just wrote.)

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  2. It COULD be semantics, but I once dated a woman who was literally mowed down by a drunk driver while she stood on the side of a road (you may have seen the story in the news. the drivers was a prominent Olympic swimmer). While it wasn’t her fault that she got mowed over (and critically injured), she took her response-ability and thrived. She was even featured on Oprah for her inspirational story. She knew what happened wasn’t her fault, but the response was hers.
    Jonathan Look recently posted..Yes, We Are Responsible

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