Everyone needs a Sue in their lives. While I’ve known Sue socially for a couple of years, it’s been in the last six months that I’ve been blessed to spend some serious quality time with her. We’ve been hiking in the mountains where there are no distractions, and nothing else to do but talk for hours. If you ever really want to find out what someone is made of, go hiking with them.
When I’m with Sue, it always feels like such a breath of fresh air, pardon the pun, because we are in the mountains after all. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was about her, until last week. You see, Sue has an incredibly deep understanding and razor sharp sense of personal responsibility for her decisions and her life’s actions. And believe me, this is rare. So, what is personal responsibility?
Responsibility: the opportunity or ability to act independently and make decisions.
As an adult, you are ultimately responsible for your life, and if you have children, for the lives of others. Living in Canada, you have the opportunity to make your own decisions. If you are mentally competent, you also have the ability. Personal responsibility is to realize that you make your own decisions on a moment by moment basis, and the end result of those decisions are behaviours that you then physically act out. The consequences of those behaviours are yours, and yours alone.
So, what does a healthy sense of personal responsibility look like?
When things don’t go as planned
When Sue was thrown from a horse, she knew it was her ‘fault’ or responsibility for getting to that place. Yes, it was very tempting for her to blame the darn horse for spooking, and she was flaming mad at the horse for some time, but in the end she realized she also played a part.
As an experienced rider, Sue knew the horse was getting anxious about the cars that were driving past. She also knew she had a choice, right at the beginning of the mild spooking, to do something about it, but chose not to. As the horse continued to act up, Sue then made of series of other decisions to not get off the horse and to not deal with his behaviour. Finally, the horse spooked when a holiday trailer went by, and there she was, flat on her bum in the grass.
Was Sue actively aware of her decision making process at the time, or where her decisions would ultimately lead? No. No one is that self aware all the time. Well, maybe Buddha was, but I’m not him. Are you? It was only after looking back on the situation could Sue see how the interactions between herself and horse led to that moment. If you ask her, she will say “Oh, it’s totally my fault I landed on my butt. I knew that horse was having a hard time and I didn’t do anything about it.”
Wow. Now THAT is refreshing! When was the last time you heard someone take responsibility for something like that? I’m wiling to bet the majority would blame the horse and leave it at that.
Happiness, in the face of difficulty
Sue also takes responsibility for her own happiness, and actively does something about it on a daily basis. While we may feel this isn’t easily done sometimes, it is possible. Recently, Sue’s life was thrown upside down. Her husband and a good friend were receiving chemotherapy at the same time. She decided she would help them both by driving them to the chemo appointments, and helping them through a very tough day.
This was also very hard on Sue, and to make herself feel better, Sue would come hiking with me the next day. All day long she would have a huge smile on her face, telling me hilarious horse stories, and basically keeping ME entertained.
Being a healer who helps people get out of depression, I asked how she did it. She explained that she was responsible for how she felt. That yes, there were serious things in her life, but right now, she could take some time for herself and to enjoy this moment being in the mountains and getting some exercise.
I know! Who is this woman and can we clone her?
Daily decisions add up
Like my husband, Sue’s husband was often away when she was raising their (now adult) son. As she never knew if her husband would be around, Sue would plan to do things herself, like getting her son to all his activities, or planning a night out. That way, if her husband came home, then great – he could come along too.
This same philosophy meant she never felt guilty if she already had plans made and he returned home. Sue was responsible for making decisions about how she would plan her life, and she did.
Blame – the personal responsibility killer
I’m writhing this post now because I have someone in my life who is blaming everyone else for her present troubles. It’s a very limiting place to be, with not a lot of choices. How is anyone supposed to get themselves out of a tough spot if it was someone else’s fault for getting them there in the first place?
It’s equivalent to handing someone a key to your life, and saying “Here, you are now in charge of whether or not I’m happy, if I get that job, or if I get to do the things in life I want to.”
Sounds like the ultimate victim statement, doesn’t it? Really, the only person who might actually live this way is a hostage or a prisoner. Yet, many people DO live this way, because they are a hostage to their victim beliefs of blame:
- “It’s my parents fault for getting a divorce that I’m so unhappy now.”
- “My husband is a jerk, so now I’m miserable.”
- “It’s your fault I didn’t do well in that event, you didn’t support me enough.”
As always with my articles, there is hope. These victim-blame statements can easily be turned into choices that are supportive:
- Recognize that bad things happen to good people. “I’m done letting something that happened 40 years ago ruin my life. What’s done is done. I forgive my parents for the decisions they made, and I’m moving on with my life.”
- Unless it was an arranged marriage, you made the decision to date, and then marry this guy. If you could do all that, then what can you do now? “I choose to engage in marriage counselling, with our without my husband, so I can learn to be the best communicator I can be. If our marriage improves, great. If not, I have options in my life.”
- Putting the emphasis on someone else to help you do something is not very empowering. How about “I choose to do the best I can in this event. I will ask others for help and support when needed, but I know that it is me, and me alone, who can do it. It doesn’t matter how well I perform compared to others, because I know I did it myself.”
Choices, choices, choices! There are so many! The next time you want to blame another for the choices you made in the past, instead decide to choose an empowering, self-responsibility choice. It’s that easy, and also that empowering.