by Nez

We as humans have many problems. One in particular that is rooted at the base of our problems is the lack of responsibility. What is responsibility? Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines the word responsible as: liable to be called upon as the primary cause, motive or agent; able to answer for one’s conduct and obligations; being a free moral agent. Our lack of personal responsibility keeps us powerless to solve the problems we already have while it generates even more new problems for us. It is possible to transform Webster’s definition of the word responsible into a way of living. I would like for you to keep an open mind while we explore some of the causes and solutions for our lack of responsibility.

Stuart Sorensen, RMN, in an essay entitled “Understanding Responsibility,” states that people drift through life reacting to the actions of others instead of taking steps on their own behalf; many people think that their lives are something that “JUST HAPPENS.” We often don’t take control of the direction of our lives, and even more often we leave many of our decisions to someone or something else.

If you could have the power to control what happens in your life… would you use it? Or is it better to say do you use it? Because you have this power: it is choice. It is freewill. By choosing, you are accepting and taking responsibility for your life. You are the primary cause of your actions and happiness. You are the one that is ultimately responsible for you.

So, then, why are we so willing to abdicate responsibility? Why can we not see the choices? A paper titled “On the Concept of Ecological Optimism” by Irina Shirkova-Tuuli paraphrases anthropologist Ralph Linton: “The last creature in the world to discover water would be the fish, precisely because he is always immersed in it.” This reminds us that some important things are difficult to see — just like our difficulty in seeing that we are the cause of our lack of responsibility.

How many times have you heard yourself or someone else say, “Well, I can’t help it,” or “It’s always been that way”… “I didn’t know”… “No one told me”… or “That’s just the way it is.” Let me use an illustration from an old e-mail; you may have heard it or seen it at work — it’s distributed widely on the web….

“Company Policy Explained”

“Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the other monkeys with cold water.

“After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result — all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

“Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

“Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked, and the previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm. Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, and then the fifth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked.

“Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey. After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana. Why not?

“Because as far as they know, that’s the way it’s always been done around here.

“And that, my dear friends, is how company policy is born.”

Our excuses for not knowing are not only acceptable with us but also socially acceptable. We make excuses for our actions and our feelings. Ultimately the excuses that we make mean nothing. They are just an illustration of our unwillingness and even laziness to take responsibility and move forward.

We are responsible for the decisions that we do or don’t make. In his “Understanding Responsibility” article, Sorensen states, “The difficulty is that it often feels easier to leave all the decisions to someone or something else.” Appointing another person or thing responsible for our situation and feelings is not putting forth any effort. It is relying on another source for your actions or dependence. This dependence for something or someone else also makes it easier for us to blame them instead of blaming ourselves.

A good example of shifting the blame is my kid brother, who is still in high school. This past semester, by his choice, he missed 13 days of school, which is the school’s absence limit. He went to Saturday class in an attempt to make up some of the days he missed. But to his amazement, upon arrival he found that the school had the rule that if you miss or exceed the maximum of 13 absences, Saturday class does not make up any of the missed days. So he left the Saturday class mad. When I asked why he was mad he replied, “Because it’s the school’s fault — they screwed me because I didn’t know there was a rule about not being able to make up absences.” So not only did he make an excuse, he blamed the school for how he felt and for his situation.

Basically, the true cause of our lack of responsibility is us. Our inability to want to see or do something about our circumstances or feelings is our choice, our responsibility. Even when an outside obstacle comes our way, it is still our responsibility to choose how we are going to take action and how we are going to feel about it. So if we are the cause to our problem, we are also the solution.

There are outside influences that can help lead you in understanding responsibility better. But the first step is up to you. You have to choose, use your free will, and know that your responsibilities are your own.

Four helpful steps offered by Sorenson are:

1. Whenever faced with a problem, be it emotional or practical, take a deep breath, focus your mind clearly and objectively upon the situation, and remind yourself that you are responsible. Ask yourself what you intend to do, design a plan of action, and/or alter the way you feel about it.

2. You may need to learn new skills in order to take action.

3. Stop waiting for other people to solve your problems for you. Remember: you are responsible, not dependent. What are you going to do about it?

4. Take the time to learn and use a system of self-help that works for you.

Other solutions I found are methods known as “Reality Therapy” and “Choice Theory,” developed by the American psychiatrist William Glasser. Glasser states that Reality Therapy is a method of counseling that teaches people how to direct their own lives, make more effective choices, and develop the strength to handle stresses and problems of life. Choice Theory contends that the only person’s behavior we can control is our own. Both aspects of William Glasser’s methods emphasize our responsibility, and self-empowerment. Ultimately, we are the only one who is responsible for us.

“Responsibility starts with the willingness to acknowledge that you are the cause in the matter. It starts with the willingness to deal with a situation from and with the point of view, whether at the moment realized or not, that you are the source of what you are, what you do and what you have. This point of view extends to include even what is done to you and ultimately what another does to another.” This definition of responsibility is offered from U.S. Sports Academy faculty member William J. Price.

Our lack of responsibility leaves us powerless; it is throwing in the towel on who we are, and on our choices and free will. The lack of responsibility comes from making excuses, social acceptance, dependence, blaming others, and sheer laziness and/or fear in wanting to acknowledge that we are the only person responsible for us. Remember, you are responsible for your actions and your feelings; it is your choice and responsibility to take action. Don’t feel guilty for what you have or have not done. The important thing is that you learn and understand your personal responsibility. Don’t deny your responsibilities — embrace them and shape the beautiful person you are.

© Copyright 2004, 2013 by Nez

[Editor’s note: The “monkey story” appears to be widely distributed online, and we have not been able to determine its origin. If you have information about its source, please contact us so that we may give appropriate credit.]

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