Wisdom Session: Responsibility, Compromise and Sacrifice

If you’ve ever listened to Chairlift’s Bruises (which was 1st on the U.S. Billboard “Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles” in 2008), you’ll know the romantic temptation of sacrificing for a relationship. 

And if you’ve ever listened to the Have Fun Teaching Responsibility Song (which never was and most likely never will be on any hot 100 singles playlist), you might have been surprised at what pre-schoolers are taught, that many of us tend to forget.  

What do these two songs have in common?

Of course, you are right. They are both on this season’s Dwelling playlist, because they both give examples of responsibility, compromise and sacrifice!

Our Wisdom Session started off on a heated and almost never-ending discussion on: “What is responsibility to you?” After plotting the entire room’s responses on the board, it seemed like our understanding of responsibility could be distilled into a few critical words: expectations, burden, punishment, blame, guilt, duty, obligation, sacrifice, and compromise. With massive undertones of “have to”, “should”, and “need to.” Does this language sound familiar to you? Chances are, it will be difficult for you to think about responsibility without its accompanying weight of negative associations.

But how would you feel if we told you that everything we’ve made responsibility to mean is actually the opposite of being truly responsible? Julia had the room relook at the word “because”—a word that most often shows up in our justifications, explanations, and excuses that puts us into the position of a victim—and suggested that the secret to responsibility actually lay in re-framing this word.

Just as we could relate to responsibility as “response-ability” (or ability to respond to the situation), we could relate to “because” as “be cause”.  A shift in the relationship to this word changes the whole meaning of what it means to be responsible. To recognize ourselves as the source and cause of the matter puts us in a position of power and control over the circumstances.

If you could recognize yourself as the cause of your own situation, and acknowledge what you did or didn’t do that caused the situation to exist or persist in the first place, if you knew your own part, owned it, and then acted upon it, would you still feel as if you had “no choice” in the matter?

Not everyone agreed with this definition. “How could I be responsible or be cause for something I absolutely have no control of, such as my boss’s personality, or a tsunami?” someone asked. Perhaps you don’t have control over the weather or another person’s character, but you certainly have control over your responses. So before you go into “why me?”, “it’s not my fault” or “I don’t have a choice”, perhaps you should consider the choices you had made that led you here, the actions you had taken that caused you to be in this situation, and your response to the circumstances. Note that there is no blame (of either self or others) in responsibility—only an acknowledgement of the reality of the situation which enables you to respond appropriately.

This brought up another question: Is there a limit to what we can be responsible for? Only as far as our capacity as a person allows. There are levels of responsibility depending on how much space we have to include others. Beginning with self (fundamental responsibility), how can we grow into assuming responsibility for another, others, and beyond that, a wider world—whatever that is for each of us?

Julia distilled this into two factors: willingness and ability. A person must have both the willingness and capability to assume a position of responsibility and experience freedom in it. Capability can be trained such that we are equipped with the knowledge and skills for execution. Willingness, however, has to come from the person as a free choice and cannot be given by another.

What are we responsible for? Who are we responsible to? We cannot be responsible for another person unless that person is incapable of being responsible for himself—for example, in the case of a baby. We are responsible for ourselves and what we do (including playing out our roles as well as owning our internal reactions to things external), and we are responsible to others.

Understandably, our struggle with responsibility often puts us in a tough spot. To resolve some of the challenges we were facing around responsibility, Julia introduced a coaching sequence that we took the opportunity to run on one another. Many of our audience had more clarity around their issues, with forwarding actions to implement, or new perspectives to consider.

How do we increase our capacity to get to the next level in our life? Join us at our Fireside as we engage in a final intimate discussion before we retire our topic on responsibility. Seats are limited, so book yours now.