RESPONSE-ABLE Empower for Action or as a Victim?

“Neurons” Meta Reflections 2015 #38
August 31, 2015
Creating Response-Able Persons #3

Ultimately responsibility is about your actions (responses) and about your ability to take action. In a word, it is about what you are able to do now which can make a difference in your life as you meet your basic human needs. Did you get all of that? There’s a lot packed into that sentence so don’t read it too quickly. Especially don’t race through it. If you do, you will miss a lot which is packed into it. Let’s unpack it.

Able: This speaks about the capability and the capacity for action which comes from the awareness and ownership of your innate powers (Meta Reflections #31). Ability is first of all the innate potential and ability depends on both knowledge and skill practice to become actual. For ability to develop you have to learn and incorporate what you have learned so you can execute what you know. What do you know and what are you able to do to unleash your potentials?

Do: This refers to taking action. The responsible behavior is something that you do, it is not about your opinions, beliefs, excuses, emotions, or what you feel, but actions. It is about, What are you going to do?

Now: This speaks about the time element which is today and into tomorrow. It is not the past. The past, at best, only refers to the conditions in which you learned something. It is not the problem. The problem is always one’s frames. The question is, “What will you do today that will make a difference for your future? The responsible person does not keep recounting his history of abuse and misfortune.

You: This refers to the person who has the most influence to improve things. It is you, not others. So, What are you going to do?

Basic needs: This refers to what’s required for any human being and arises from the innate “needs” (life requirements) for being biologically healthy (survival needs), psychologically healthy (safety needs and self needs), and relationally healthy (social needs of love and affection) and one’s meanings needs (self-actualization needs).

Let’s now summarize: What is responsibility and what is it about?

Responsibility is about what you are able to do now which can make a difference in your life as you meet your basic human needs.

If you take your powers-of-response (thinking, emoting, speaking, behaving) and integrate them by meta-stating ownership and embodiment, then you create responsibility. Then, regardless of the circumstances that life has thrown at you—responsibility is responding with the powers you have at your disposal and taking a responsible course of action to make things better for you and others.

To lead a responsible life and to take a responsible course of action, you need to be prepared with your basic powers (Meta-Reflection #35) for taking action. Doing that will make you responsive. Conversely, if you want to be ill-prepared for the world, or to send your child into the world ill-prepared— go out without thinking, feeling, speaking, and acting as if you are the one responsible for yourself. Instead blame. Blame others, blame your parents, blame your partner, blame the government, blame your school, blame history. In other words, yuou can be an empowered victim if you so choose!

But William Glasser calls this blaming “nowhere talk.” To do that, talk about your mother, father, brother and all of the people who hurt you. These may be easy to talk about, and blame, because they excuse your failures. There is however a price to pay. That’s because in the end— they lead nowhere (Reality Therapy, p. 38). That’s because it leads to both lack of responsible behavior and irresponsible behaviors. The irresponsible behaviors may be feeling sorry for oneself (emotional behavior), blaming the world (linguistic behavior), wallowing in misery and inadequacy (interpersonal behavior). For this reason, in Reality Therapy (1965), therapists accept no excuses for irresponsible acts:

“We accept no excuses for irresponsible acts. Students are held responsible for their behavior and cannot escape responsibility on the pea of being emotionally upset, mistreated by mother, neglected by father, or discriminated against by society.” (p. 70).

Nowhere talk focuses on the past. By then focusing on the past some people over-emphasize their inadequacy. That undermines their response-ability and weakens their will. Others think that if they can gain insight into the “cause” of whatever problem or mistake or bad thing that happen, that will solve the problem. But that’s an illusion. Whatever you learn about the past will not “solve” it. That’s because you still have to live with whatever happened, deal with it, and move on. Plus, learning what went wrong seldom tells you what to do right. So the sooner you learn to cope better, understand what to do today, the better.

Paradoxically, to be un-responsible or irresponsible requires using your “responses” to avoid effective responsibility(!). When a person is irresponsible, he is using his intellect to invent ideas, excuses, explanations that justify him. A pretty powerful response! The paradox is that every victim, every person playing helpless, weak, unable to do things—is actually a powerful person. What’s typically not recognized are the responses which the victim makes which are in his control. He victimizes himself by focusing on some inadequacy in self or frustration with the world and frames it as beyond his power to do anything and then argues for that perspective. In other words, he is using his mental and emotional and linguistic powers to be a victim. She clings to the secondary benefits of being a victim— others jump in to help, others give pity and compassion, she gets attention, maybe government assistance, etc.

In spite of how powerful irresponsibility is, it has a nowhere direction. It takes you nowhere useful. There are lots of secondary gains which people get from irresponsibility— self-justification, an excuse from effort, blame of others circumstances. Yet all of that is the loser’s way, not the way to win in life. Response-able responsibility is a very powerful meta-state. Try it on. It will do you good.

L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.