Posted by: mikeduckett | May 28, 2010

Is it your fault or are you just totally responsible?

So, you’re peeling the potatoes and cut yourself with the peeler; who’s responsible for said situation of bleeding finger? Next day you’re sitting at red traffic lights, minding your own business waiting for them to turn green. BANG – someone shunts you and you get whiplash; who’s responsible for said situation of whiplash?

In both scenarios can you entertain the idea that you are 100% responsible?

If not, is it because you’ve automatically substituted ‘fault’ or ‘blame’ for ‘responsibility’?

In a court of law of course the judge would look for who’s to blame/at fault and probably point the finger at the car behind. (With Elf & Safety regulations in mind he might even allow you to point the bleeding finger at the manufacturers of a dangerous peeling implement).

However you’re not in a court of law; you’re staying firmly in your own mind and trying to find the most useful view to take of these situations – useful for you that is. Will Schutz would certainly have encouraged you to seek out responsibility and ignore the issue of fault or blame. The concepts are very different and lead to different frames of mind; the blame frame being much less useful for you, and your relationships with others.

Remember all the situations where you’ve felt other people were wholly to blame: the company that made you redundant, through no fault of your own; the boss who held you wholly accountable (corporate term for blame) for the mess you made. Go on – blame them hard now. How’s that feel – helpful? Blame yourself hard now; after all you DID make a mess. How helpful is that – will your performance improve now?

In You don’t have to Look On The Bright Side to be Optimistic we talked about staying optimistic, partly through looking beyond yourself for factors that led to a poor result. This was not meant to imply there was no responsiblity on your part, just that whilst needing to work on your optimism it is worth recognizing all the external factors involved. Schutz suggested 2 very useful principles:

  1. In ANY situation all parties to the situation are 100% responsible
  2. In ANY situation each person could have done something different that would have led to a more positive outcome

This includes you.

No one made you drive that day, certainly not the person who shunted you; you chose to. You are 100% responsible for being there at the light  knowing there is always a risk of being shunted.

What other choices did you have that could have led to a better outcome than whiplash? Kept watching the rear view mirror ready to move forward that vital inch? You could have used public transport or not gone at all; choices you had no matter how unattractive at the time. (I know someone who chooses to live in central London mainly because public transport is good and they believe it is safer than driving themselves around).

Seek out your responsibility for the situation and now notice how you feel about the future. Learnt anything? Feel in more control over similar situations in future?

The paradox is that taking responsibility is liberating, whereas apportioning blame to others is tiring.  As Marti Seligman highlighted in his work on Learned Helplessness, believing you have no control over your situation is depressing and not useful for future performance.

Think of that redundancy – where was your 100% responsibility? What could you have done that could have led to a more positive outcome? Learnt anything – even if simply to never again believe it can’t happen to you and to make provision?

By the way – don’t forget the person who shunted you is also 100% responsible – but that’s their lookout!


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