August 5, 2015

The Lost Art of Taking Responsibility

 If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn't sit for a month.”  - Theodore Roosevelt

We live in a time when passing the buck seems to be the rule instead of the exception. It's become so prevalent that we almost expect people not to take responsibility. It's like we've given up hope that the buck actually ever stops anywhere and just brace ourselves for the excuse when we need to follow up on things. Has taking responsibility become a lost art?

I read a post today by Frank Sonnenberg, someone I admire and respect, about blaming. You can read Franks article here. I thought I'd also share some thoughts with you on why blaming isn't to our benefit.

Blaming may seem convenient as it seems to get us off the hot seat - temporarily. The problem with this, even if we never get found out, is that we innately know when we are weaseling around something even if others only suspect. When we pass the blame off onto someone or something else, a bit of self respect goes along with it. I don't think I need to tell anyone the pitfalls of diminished self respect. When we compound that with the respect we lose from others nothing good can come of it. Better to take our medicine early - while it's easier to swallow!
It can only get worse!

My psych teacher said something that's stuck with me all these years. He said that the fundamental purpose of the brain is to make the body comfortable. Explaining what he meant, he gave several examples such as temperature regulation, signals for thirst and hunger, and even rationalization. 

Rationalization may seem like an odd example but it's true that our brains will find a way to rationalize anything that we find unpleasant, uncomfortable, or unacceptable. Say for instance a married person decides to break their vows and enter into an extramarital affair. You can be sure that it will rarely be their fault. They will have a "reasonable explanation" as to why someone else was to blame. The alternative is too uncomfortable to live with.

If we do something that flies in the face of our belief system or encounter something we can't explain by ordinary means, our brains will jump in and create something feasible for us. Ever heard that strange "bump in the night" that unsettled you because you couldn't readily identify it? How long did it take before you had a "perfectly reasonable explanation" that calmed your nerves?

I once saw the word rationalize spelled like this: rational-lies. We often tell ourselves rational-lies to insulate ourselves from feeling bad, to soothe our consciences, or to delay dealing with emotions that aren't pleasant. If rationalizing becomes habitual, we can begin to believe our own excuses! Once that happens we've disconnected from reality and our integrity has slid down a slippery slope.

Another problem with blaming is that when passing blame to someone or something else, we hand our power over too. If we believe someone or something outside ourselves is responsible for our problems then we also believe that we are powerless to change the situation. Habitual blaming causes feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. 

Let me give you an example: I blame chocolate for my jeans being tight. So yes, I've given chocolate power over me and I feel helpless to resist its allure. At this point, I haven't given it enough power to jump out of the cabinet, unwrap itself and hop into my mouth, but it could yet happen! Once it does, I'll have to admit I've lost touch with reality. In my own defense, chocolate can be wily! AGH! There I go again! Rational- lies-ing! By now I'm feeling hopeless that those jeans will ever be comfortable. See how the cycle goes? 

On the other hand, when we take responsibility, we hold on to our personal power. We know and accept that we're strong and able to make new choices and improve. (As long as chocolate isn't involved.)

While blaming seems like a short term fix, being responsible is the long distance winner. It keeps up firmly planted in reality and helps us see things clearly. It boosts our self esteem and gives us the confidence to tackle bigger projects and overcome obstacles. Taking responsibility allows us to keep our personal power where it belongs to avoid feeling helpless.

In the end, being responsible is much more important to us than what others may temporarily think of us. Yes, there are times when taking responsibility may have short term consequences that may not be pleasant, but the power to face ourselves in the mirror with integrity, knowing who we are, is worth any short term cost. Often those we may have disappointed will be more willing to work with us to find a solution when they know we are willing to take responsibility because our honesty engenders trust.

To sum it all up, there is no real upside to blaming and the surface of the downside hasn't even been scratched in this post. While we may not think we're doing harm, the ripples of the "quick out" spread farther and are more damaging than we can know. Just ask my jeans!
What are your thoughts on taking responsibility? Do you too feel like it's becoming a lost art?


  1. Great post, Anita! I agree with you, and I'd probably add a small extension to responsibility, which is ownership. Many people don't take the time to see their flaws and take ownership for their shortcomings. It goes hand-in-hand with responsibility regarding blame, but I also notice the ignorance of ownership. People disregard admittance to blame from choices or actions that left a negative effect. Instead, it was someone else's fault they didn't get that job, or someone else's fault they put on weight. The problem starts at the top, government, and trickles down to citizens.

    I live in Germany, and to some extent, they do value ownership. If a sign says not to enter somewhere, you ignore it and get hurt, you can't sue like you can in the States. I believe responsibility is a lost art because government has diminished its value. If someone gets hurt using a product, all of a sudden, they want to ban the product instead of just chucking it up to an unfortunate event most likely caused by the person.

    Okay, that's my rambling take on it. LOL! Sorry about the long winded comment.

    1. Love your thoughts on this Denise. People can be at very generous when giving away ownership. Thank you for stopping by and adding your voice on this important topic. Let's bring back commons sense and common courtesy!

    2. I'm with you on that, Anita.

      BTW, I love your profile picture. I bet it makes everyone smile when they see it. Have a great day!

    3. Thanks Denise. My self esteem loves you!

  2. I believe taking responsibility and ownership of our actions is something we are taught as children by the community that raises us (our parents, schools, friends, other adults who play key roles, etc). Articles like yours Anita and Frank Sonnenberg’s show that as adults, we can still learn this skill. That is such a positive message! The choice is ours and ultimately the benefits will out way the negatives.

    1. I agree Kate. While these lessons should be taught and reinforced while young, as long as we're breathing we're learning and it's never too late to do better as we know better.