Taking Responsibility is a Freeing Experience: Shaming & Blaming, Less So…
It may be the case that I botch things up less frequently than I once did. Not sure about that. In my current role as President of Southwestern College, I have infinitely more possibilities, it seems, for making decisions, comments, policies and so on that impact somebody in a way that does not feel good to them, or results in an outcome which is not their preferred outcome. Sometimes that is just the way it is, and there is nothing much to be done about it. Something had to be decided, and the person makes a decision to respond to my decision or my style in a certain way (they often do not VIEW it as having made a decision—they may believe I MADE them feel that way, which I believe is RARELY the case, so I can’t help them much with that). I am happy to listen, empathize, work it through, brainstorm ways to get your preferred outcome another way, express it differently, but if you want to hold onto a negative feeling, then I guess you will. It’s America—you’re allowed to.
I am talking about when I really DO do something in an unskilled way. What I know for sure is that I have developed a…what is the word I want…not “skill”, exactly. Hmmm…Maybe it is an ability, or a Willing-ness. That sounds more right. So when I do something, say something, decide something, in a way that is not the most sensitive, or leaves out somebody’s point of view (when their point of view should have been considered), or otherwise contributes in any way to somebody feeling not great, and I could have done it more skillfully, more sensitively, in a more informed fashion, I have become really, really good at just saying, at being WILLING to say, one or all of the following. “I’m sorry. I was not thinking. My bad. I was mistaken. I was just feeling kind of ornery and you were available, and you got it, and you did not deserve it.”
Here is what I have found. The SOONER I see that one, the better, and the sooner I ADDRESS it, the better. It is freeing as hell. I have to say. Just “Sorry, that was not meant for you, but you got it, and I want to take responsibility for it. You did not deserve it.” And the weight lifts, and the angels sing. It is nice. I think as a younger man, I was probably MORE ornery, and I would hold onto it, and blame you, or the universe, or the Republicans, or say it wasn’t my fault and on and on. And I was much slower to take responsibility. That made the bad feeling in ME last a whole lot longer. So this new Willingness is in effect a gift to myself as well. How cool is that?
The other variation on this is when I make a decision, personally or professionally, based on evidence, research, gut feelings, intuition, hearsay, “best practices”, whatever I take into account, and make my best assessment, and it STILL turns out to be a not great decision, for whatever reason (probably I did not know what I did not know), I am quick to take THAT responsibility too. At least I think I am. I know for fact I am much better at it than I used to be. Others may view it otherwise, but it is a journey, you know, and I know where I started. I also see a lot of others NOT doing it. We all know how hard and awkward that is to witness.
When you step forward, take responsibility, the healing and patching and forward movement start much sooner. When you stand naked to the world, and proclaim “I take responsibility” (and please note that that is NOT the same as saying “It is my fault”), people are much less likely to want to start, or keep throwing rocks at you. It is disarming, and it leads to new possibilities. But you have to do it, and it has to be sincere, and you cannot do it with the expectation that anybody will respond in any specific way.
Perhaps we are back to some variation of the Fourfold Way: Show up, pay attention, speak the truth, be open to outcome, but not attached to a specific outcome.
You know what else does not work worth a proverbial hill of beans? Shame attacks. When you mess something up, and your response is to shame the hell out of yourself about it, nothing has been gained, and much has been lost. My personal observation is that when one is busy shaming oneself, they are typically also, concurrently, NOT outwardly taking responsibility with the people who have been impacted. It can become an intensely private event that makes the person feel awful beyond words, and still does nothing to let the outside world know that they are aware of the impact their decision or behavior has had on others, on the family, on the workplace, on the relationship, or whatever or whoever has been impacted. No interpersonal healing is taking place, only intrapersonal Sturm und Drang. They might THINK their shame is known to the world, and that there is no reason to actually SAY anything about the situation, or take more public responsibility, that the internal misery counts for “taking responsibility”, but that is not really not accurate. One still needs to stand up and say it, not in an “I suck” kind of way, but in a “My bad, I am aware that my behavior has impacted the collective, or the relationship, and I am here to do anything I can to make this right again.” That is the healing moment. That is when we can come together and move forward.
At least this is how it is, or how it feels, in my life. Perhaps it is different for you, and none of this sounds quite like how you want to manage your own life and affairs. But perhaps I have at least made you think about it a little. Transforming consciousness through education, you know. If you are even just a little more conscious about how you manage your life by dint of having read this little blog, I will feel good. Well, I will feel good anyway, but maybe I will feel just a little better.
And writing this out was very clarifying for me, too. Writing can be such good therapy, you know?