Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Blame and Responsibility in American Culture

Everyone seems to want to blame someone else for the position they’re in rather than take responsibility for their own actions and decisions. Everyone’s whining and crying, these days, about everyone else. Everyone wants to blame their parents for their own failures in life. They say that somehow their parents imposed some abnormal emotional state, or that they somehow failed to provide them the faculties they need to be a successful and productive member of society. Many also blame the government for their position. They believe the government should do more to help them in their circumstances. That the government somehow is to blame for their lack of ability to fit in our society. These people look outward for blame when they should be looking inward for responsibility.

This mentality of not wanting to except responsibility for a given situation is so prevalent in our society that it seems to be engrained into our psyche on some deep level. We are so conditioned with this that it seems nearly impossible to “see” things any other way. Our society is in great need of a basic paradigm shift where this principal of responsibility is concerned. It seems to me to be a matter of maturity and dependence. Dependence is the idea of you, you take care of me; you come through for me; you didn’t come through; I blame you for the results. Independence is the idea of I, I can do it; I am responsible; I am self-reliant; I can choose. True independence of character empowers us to act rather than be acted upon. It frees us from circumstances and other people. Dependent people need others to get what they want. Independent people can get what they want through their own effort. Even recognizing this fact, I myself have to make a concerted, conscious effort to keep myself from falling to the trappings of the blame game. Every single situation you ever have any involvement with is a direct result of a decision you’ve made. This is the dictum by which I try to live my life. No matter what the circumstance or how “un-lucky” things seem to be, I can always trace this very moment directly back to some decision I’ve made at some point in my life, past or present. We live presently through our previous actions. Every choice you make has a cause, even if you decide not to choose you still have made a choice. That choice, too, will have a cause.

“Choose your attitude, it may be your only choice.” For each individual situation there is a typical emotion and a typical action which accompanies it. Though not always logical, it is the conditioned response taught to us through some combination of factors. This response is typical, but not mandatory. There are basically three theories of determinism widely accepted to explain the nature of man. Genetic determinism basically says your grandparents made you this way. It’s in your DNA, it just goes through the generations and you inherited it. Psychic determinism basically says your parents made you this way. Your upbringing, your childhood experience essentially laid out your personal tendencies and your character. It’s the way your parents brought you up. Environmental determinism basically says your boss is making you this way, or your spouse, or that bratty teenager, or your economic situation, or national policies. Someone or something in your environment is responsible for your situation. Each of these is based on the stimulus/response theory. The basic idea is that we are conditioned to respond in a particular way to a particular stimulus. This is reactivity, or the reactive model. While you can’t always choose your emotions, you can choose your attitude and you can choose your actions. If something angers you, you can choose not to lash out in reaction. If something saddens you, you can choose not to act in revenge. If something elates you, you can choose not to celebrate in the face of others. You can always choose your action and you are, therefore, always responsible for your actions. As human beings we have free will, the ability to act based on our self awareness, free of all other influence. We also have self awareness, the ability to think about the thoughts we are having; imagination, the ability to create scenarios in our mind beyond our present reality; and conscience, a deep inner awareness of right and wrong, the principals that govern our behavior, and a sense of the degree to which our thoughts and actions are in harmony with them. This gives us the ability to choose our thoughts independently of outside influence. That means that between stimulus and response we have the freedom to choose. In any particular situation we can choose not to respond in the way we’ve been conditioned. This is proactivity, or the proactive model.

While it’s true that most situations and circumstances rely, at least partly, on outside influences, factors outside of our control, we are always in control of ourselves. We are in control of how we react to those factors, we’re in control of the decisions we make, and we’re in control of how we act based on those decisions. It may, at times, seem as though someone else’s actions are the cause of our misfortune or circumstance. However, if you look more closely at the situation you find that prior to their actions, a choice that you made or an action you chose brought you directly to the position you’re in. So you see that while someone else’s actions may be a factor in your situation, your actions brought you to theirs. You’re choices always precede those of the people around you. You are your own person and you control everything that you do. Your behavior is a product of your decisions, not your conditions. Just look at the word responsibility- “response-ability” –the ability to choose your response. Proactive people recognize that responsibility. They do not blame circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behavior. Their behavior is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of their conditions. Reactive people are often affected by their physical and social environment, good weather and good treatment makes them feel good while bad weather or bad treatment makes them feel defensive or protective and affects their attitude and performance. Reactive people are driven by feelings, by circumstance, by conditions, by their environment. Proactive people are driven by values. Proactive people are still influenced by external stimuli, whether physical, social, or psychological. But their response to the stimuli is a value-based choice or response.

I ask you now, which one are you? Reactive or proactive? Which one would you like to be? Once you admit it to yourself, you have the choice to be either. Repeat after me, “I am what I am today because of the choices I made yesterday.” If people just realized that the lives we live are the sum of the choices we’ve made, they could effectively shape their lives by making choices congruent with their particular set of values. But instead they want to place blame rather than take responsibility for themselves and their lives.

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