Sometimes we upset people we care about. Things get misinterpreted or miscommunicated and this occasionally leads to somebody else being disappointed or hurt. Do we intend to upset them? No. Do we always agree that we did anything wrong? No.
So, if we disagree AND we didn’t mean to, it’s not our fault, right?
Diffusion of responsibility
I’m sure you’ve heard of the psychological phenomenon of responsibility diffusion, which is when we tend to distance ourselves from responsibility and taking action when others are present, under the assumption that ‘somebody else’ will take control. That somebody else will claim responsibility.
Well, newsflash my friends. That won’t always work. Sometimes there is nobody else and you have to be the one to take action, even though it’s not technically your responsibility. And that’s the golden egg of today’s lesson.
what are you made of?
Somebody once said that all we are is our intentions: what we think and intend to do. I remember hearing that and thinking, ‘I don’t buy that. I disagree.’
All we are is our decisions. Our actions. You can have all the intent in the world of being a good person and doing good, but if your decisions and actions aren’t good, are misinterpreted, misunderstood, I think you need to ask yourself why, and I think you need to take responsibility for that.
You may not have intended to upset anybody, but you HAVE. Your actions, intentional or otherwise, have caused another human being to hurt and that’s on you. When somebody is upset or disappointed as a result of something that you did or did not do, you don’t get to decide whether or not they should be hurt. You must accept responsibility for the consequences and effects of your actions. Of course you can’t spend your life walking on egg shells, apologising to everyone who takes offence at every little thing you say or do, but when you do upset someone, what are you going to do about it?
Imagine the following scenario.
Your friend has left you with their dog for the day. (I was gonna say kid but please, dogs > children.) So you’re out walking little Barney and, suddenly, Barney gets aggressive with another dog and starts barking and bites them. You are shocked, you are embarrassed, and so your immediate response is to say to the owner, ‘oh my God I’m so sorry, it’s not my dog.’
This is something which I like to call responsibility rejection and it’s something I see all the time.
Look, we all make mistakes, we all mess up, in work, in relationships, in everything. It’s natural. It’s human. But blame and responsibility transferal is such bullshit. It’s just a way for us to go ‘oh I didn’t mean to, it’s not my fault, so therefore I shouldn’t be punished for it.’
If you are put in a position of responsibility, then you are responsible for the actions and the consequences that occur when you are in that position, in the exact same way that you are responsible for the consequences of your own actions, intentional or not.
In the case of Barney, Barney isn’t your dog and you don’t want to be the one held responsible for his actions, so you try to distance yourself from him and the situation by explaining that he’s not your dog. You feel better because then it looks like the responsibility is not yours. The blame is not on you.
But it is. At this very moment in time, you are in charge of Barney. It’s not your fault that he bit the dog, but it is your responsibility. And you need to claim that responsibility.
What am I saying?
I am saying we are all human. We all make mistakes, we fuck up and get things wrong. This is inevitable. Sometimes we seem to get things wrong without even realising it, until our best friend points out we’ve been acting like a dick or we forgot their birthday. Again. You know you didn’t mean it, that you’d never intend to make them feel anything less than adored, but sometimes it’s worth dropping the pride, putting your hands in the air and saying ‘yep. I’m sorry’.
You might not always agree, you might think they are over-reacting or being over-sensitive, that the real source of the problem lies in their own insecurities, but if someone is upset as a direct result of your actions, you need to take ownership. Say yes I did this, no I don’t agree with why you’re upset (maybe keep that bit to yourself), but I am standing up, I am saying sorry and I am making this situation better.
It might not be your fault, but it is your responsibility.
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