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The Positive Approach - Lesson 5

Whose Responsibility?

By Peter Shepherd

Listen to the Lesson:

This time we move on to look at the issue of responsibility. This is often confusing. If I make a comment to someone - even though it was kindly and sincerely meant - and they get upset or take offense, is their upset my responsibility?

Take the example of a father who needs to tell his son it is time to go to bed, and no, he can't watch the rest of the film on TV, he needs to sleep and be up in time for school. The boy is angry and resentful and reluctantly goes to bed, feeling little love for me even though my action was based on my love and care for him.

There is a principle here: another's choices and creations (that includes their emotional responses) are their responsibility, not yours or anybody else's. In the same way that jealousy is less than love, since it resents the other's freedom to choose, to be themselves. This might seem like a cold or hard-hearted view but really it is based on love and respect for the other person's freedom.

So what is your responsibility? What if you do something wrong. Take this example: I promise my son to go to the circus with him, but then I'm too busy and don't have time to go, and he is understandably upset. For me, breaking my promise has been a wrong action on my part, and I would be responsible for it.

The conventional wisdom is that I have caused my son's grief. In truth however, it is my son who causes his grief, not me. But yes, it was still be a wrong action since I promised to take him to the circus and didn't. I am responsible for doing what I think is right, according to my ethical judgment. If I do something wrong according to my own ethics, I am responsible for that. I decided my work was more important than keeping my promise - in retrospect I may realize I made a mistake, apologize to my son and learn from that experience. I am not responsible for my son's reactions though, that is his determinism, his freedom, his life.

If you do something you think is right and someone gets upset about it, even if you could have predicted that, the upset is nevertheless that person's responsibility. And if you do something you know (or later realize) is wrong and another person is upset about that, their upset is similarly their own responsibility.

Another example: if you were to withhold doing personal development because your partner has said they do not want you to change in any way, perhaps because of their personal fears and insecurities, that is your choice. But if you consider making a better life for yourself is the ethical thing to do - for the benefit of yourself and ultimately for others too - and you tell your partner that and she gets upset, it is your partner who is responsible for the upset - it is her interpretation of your actions that creates her own upset, not your action in itself, which is a responsible action.

You can genuinely love someone whilst nevertheless doing something they don't like or agree with. You do it because you feel it is the right thing to do, though you still understand and have empathy for their different viewpoint (that causes their emotional reaction) that they have created by their own choices and belief system.

If one only did things others can easily accept then the status quo would never progress. That would truly be a trap. The solution here is better communication, leading to increased understanding of each other's viewpoint, and therefore acceptance of the differing personal realities.

There is a strong imprint in our culture to feel sad, guilty, etc. for painful emotions our actions may cause to others. There's a general misconception that you are your emotions. "I am angry" and "you make me angry". This is conditioning not truth. In terms of cause and effect, it's a viewpoint at effect. Some say that to be happy, only do what others can easily experience - it's the same lie.

The Church teaches "Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you". I believe this IS true, as if you are being ethical - acting from integrity, being true to your self - then it's going to be OK for others to do the same to you. And if it isn't then you'd better re-think whether you are indeed doing the right thing. It is one definition of a 'wrong' action: that which you would not like another to do to you.

You are responsible for your choices, decisions and actions. For being true to your judgment. For communicating with honesty and integrity, developing and maintaining an open mind, and promoting understanding and empathy. For never compromising your freedoms and rights nor trampling on another's. For always acting from the primary motivation of love. That's all and quite enough.

Look at some experiences you have had and perhaps see them in a different light. Times when somebody was upset and you felt it was your fault. Separate the right and wrong actions you made from the interpretation the other made, based on which they were upset. If you made a mistake, learn from that - if their interpretation was faulty, realize that is their responsibility, their freedom.

Look at times when you were upset and you felt it was their fault. Realize that you created your emotional reaction, and that their actions were based on their own understanding (or misunderstanding) of the situation. If they were mistaken, forgive them.

Trust in Relationships
We all yearn for relationships in which there is trust. We want to be able to depend on others. We're looking for the ease, clarity and harmony that are inherent in trustful relationships. But, is there any one of us who wasn't let down or betrayed by someone who didn't live up to his or her agreements?

We all make agreements every day. Some seem small and insignificant: agreement about a time to meet or a promise to run an errand. Others are seen as bigger and more important: a formal contract or signing a loan. But all of them are important. Because this is the way trust is earned. Your reputation is built upon your ability to make and keep agreements.

The corner stone of every relationship is trust. And when we're not feeling safe in a relationship - we do not give our 100%. Partners who keep their agreements or re-negotiate when they can't are few. But then, so are successful couples. If you do not keep your agreements within your marriage (or any relationship for that matter) you make your partner responsible for you.

Let's say it was your turn to do the laundry. You didn't. Your partner has to do it instead of you or has to become your "mother" and remind (nag) you so you would do it. This means becoming responsible FOR you. That's what your parents did until you were able to take responsibility for your own life.

However, in marriage, you are two grown ups that should be responsible TO each other. This means each one of you takes responsibility for keeping your agreements and stand up for your word.

Break an agreement once, and your partner might forget it. Break an agreement twice, and your partner might forgive you. Break an agreement for the third time, and your partner won't trust you again. Period.

And when there is no trust in your relationship - you don't have a relationship. Yes, your partner might still be there - physically. But he or she is not there anymore - emotionally.

And one thing you have to remember - losing trust can take a minute, building it back may take years.

I discovered early on that those people who often break agreements always end as being mediocre and having dead relationships. Most of them think that so-called small agreements can be broken because they're not important.

Well, the consequence of breaking agreements is loss of trust and respect. No matter how big or small those agreements are. And when you lose trust and respect, "mediocre" becomes your second name.

Check yourself honestly. Do you believe that being late for a meeting you agreed with your spouse won't hurt them or that your partner won't mind if you don't do the dishes as agreed? Do you tell yourself that the consequences will be small and you can handle them? Well, think again. Have a look at how your partner reacts to those broken agreements.

The other side of the story is the partner that got hurt by the broken agreement. If you are often on this side, ask yourself how come it happens to you so frequently? How do you feel being hurt and disrespected? And why do you allow it? Are you afraid to rock the boat? Do you think, "Oh, it's not such a big deal"? Do you find excuses to justify the breaking of the agreement?

If you let others (even if it is your beloved partner) walk over you, and don't protest, guess what... they will keep on walking all over you! It's that simple...

By the way, sometimes, your partner is not trying to hurt or disrespect you on purpose. Sometimes, they're just not aware or sensitive enough to realize the impact they're having. And if you don't tell them, or are not honest about how you feel when they break the agreements with you, they'll probably never change.

My personal way of living is to make few agreements and keep the ones I make. Frequently agreements are made too casually and usually with the aim of being liked, avoiding criticism or delaying the confrontation about a problem hoping there will be some miracle cure.

Some of the agreements are written, some are spoken ("I'll be in charge of taking the garbage out"), and some are unspoken ("When I speak, I am telling you the truth"). You might want to check how many agreements you have in your relationship, and does it make sense to keep all of them as agreements.

Too often trust is broken because something like 'leaving the toilet seat up', or 'not taking out the dog as promised'. Most marriages break in the end because of the garbage and the toilet seat and not because of a single extramarital affair. It happens when "enough is enough" and there's no way you can trust and respect anymore this son-of-a-bitch that not so long ago was the love of your life...

To avoid getting there, find out what your survival agreements are. These are 2-3 essential agreements that if broken could cause either one of you to step out of the relationship, right away. For some people it will be infidelity, for others substance addiction, for others emotional or physical abuse, etc. Make sure both of you are aware of and agree on these survival agreements and then... KEEP THEM!

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Next Lesson: 6. Reconnecting with the Past
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