December 12, 2006

Item 1: Personal Responsibility

Filed under: beanquest — Brian @ 6:55 am

A couple weeks back, Jennifer and I finished two classes at church. One was a 12-week marriage class, which spent the first six weeks on the individual, and the last six on the relationship. The other was “Living Your Strengths,” which was focused entirely on the individual. I learned a lot about myself (and made some significant progress on the BeanQuest) in both classes. That’s part of why I’ve been so quiet here, lately. Each class had daily homework, which ate up pretty much all of my free time.

I’ll break this up into several posts to save myself the effort of making one long coherent one (and to save you the effort of trying to read one long incoherent one).

Item One: Personal Responsibility

I. You are responsible for You and nobody else is.

In the marriage class, we discussed the idea that each person is responsible for their own happiness. This idea is part of the foundation on which to build a solid marriage. If you’re looking to your wife to solve (or accomodate) all of your problems, you’re going to be disappointed, and she’s going to be annoyed. If you want a change, you must be the one to make it happen. If you’re unhappy where you are, you must be the one to find a better way. Nobody can do it for you. (Of course, this is nothing we haven’t all heard before. But there’s a difference between hearing it and really believing it.)

I haven’t always believed in this level of responsibility. Times were, I thought the world owed me something. I thought it should refrain from doing things that I didn’t like, and (I realized long after I’d stopped thinking this way) I thought it should recognize in me the things I’m good at, and provide me opportunities in those areas. I thought that if other people were just a little bit smarter, or better-educated, or less selfish or more open-minded or had a little more empathy, things would be better.

I realized, somewhere in my twenties, that this boiled down to “If everyone would just have the same values I do, we’d all get along just fine. Now why won’t everyone else spontaneously become more like me?” …which didn’t sound like much of a philosophy.

II. That is good.

It’s been some years since I felt that way, but I’m still working to accept the implications of the truth that I’m the only one responsible for me. Much of the time for me, it’s a conscious choice, not a habit. It’s so easy to find external causes when things don’t go well. When a group has ignored my warnings and now finds itself in trouble, it’s easy to say, “if they’d listened to me then, we wouldn’t be in this mess now.” It’s hard to see the same thing and accept that the problem wasn’t that they didn’t listen – the problem was that I didn’t make a compelling case. But only the second of those two offers any hope for improvement. I can’t change other people, but I can change myself.

It is hard to accept the burden of fixing the problems that bother me. But, apart from choosing to accept things as they are (which is a mighty fine option, when it works) I believe that’s really the only choice I have. It’s tempting, sometimes, to revert to a “waiting for the world to see things my way” attitude, but it’s completely unsatisfying, it focuses on the negative, and it prevents me from improving myself.

III. That makes everything else possible.

Once I really, finally, deeply accepted the idea that if I want a change, I have to make it happen, the world opened up. When I look at problems in terms of how I contribute to the problem, I quickly see things I can to do help solve it. And there’s always something.

I was going to write about some examples here, but I want to keep the point general, and not get distracted with specifics. It’s not about an occasional big decision, it’s about frequent minor ones. It’s about a way of looking at the world that gives me a chance to improve my little corner of it. It’s about the space we humans are fortunate to have between stimulus and response. It’s in this space that I believe I have found my bean.

More to come. Next week, probably.



  1. It’s hard to see the same thing and accept that the problem wasn’t that they didn’t listen – the problem was that I didn’t make a compelling case.

    I’m not sure I necessarily agree with the idea that you didn’t make a compelling enough case either. That to me means that you are taking on responsibility for the group too.

    Sometimes people just use their free will to make decisions that are wrong no matter what you do. I don’t feel that this is some thing that one can afford to take responsibility for.

    Personal responsibility to me is a fine balance between taking responsibility for you yourself and the actions of you and the greater population.

    Comment by Rachel — December 12, 2006 @ 4:24 pm

  2. In that particular instance, I did fail to make my case. I knew ahead of time where we were going, and that nobody would like it once we got there (now we’re there, and they don’t like it for exactly the reasons I had in mind).

    You’re right, though – it *is* a fine balance. Try to fix everything and you’ll quickly lose your mind (or at least your friends). But I’ve found that believing I can do something feels better than believing I can’t.

    Sometimes it doesn’t work – but I’m much happier having failed than having chosen not to try.

    Comment by Brian — December 12, 2006 @ 8:33 pm

  3. As a parent of teens, I seem to spend a lot of my time talking about taking responsibility for our own actions and not living with that sense of entitlement that you described, or blaming others when things don’t go the way we wish. A lot of time! It’s good to model this to your kids while they are young and impressionable., like you guys are doing.

    But I do agree with you and Rach in that there’s a fine line between owning up to your part in the problem and beating yourself up over what you could have/should have/would have done. In the end, it seems it’s really the attitude that matters…focusing on what we can do rather than focusing on what we have no control over, i.e. taking action instead of being a victim, can only make us stronger and improve relations. Of course, recognizing that God is really the one in control also helps. ;-)

    Comment by Gwynne — December 13, 2006 @ 1:17 am

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