You are only responsible for one thing: what you do.
This seems simple and clear, and yet I find that a lot of people are confused about what they are responsible for. Namely, many people I talk to think that they are responsible for how others perceive them, for how others feel, meeting others’ expectations and ideals, as well as for the circumstances of one’s life.
When I coach people on communicating with someone they’re upset with I hear “but then they’ll feel sad/angry/scared/upset.” And I always respond “Yeah, they might…but that isn’t your responsibility.”
How others react to what you do is really their responsibility, it isn’t up to you. And when you try to take care of others’ feelings, in other words take responsibility for others’ feelings, you’re preventing yourself from having an authentic relationship with this other person. You’ll get so caught up in the “responsibility game” that you won’t feel free to just be yourself, which will lead to high stress, feeling unseen and unheard, and suffering.
In fact, if you censor yourself for the sake of the other person’s feelings and preferences, then you are responsible for lying, making yourself small, and for being fake.
And there are other people who try to reject any sense of responsibility at all. ”He made me do it” or “I had to make that choice, there was nothing else I could have done.” I also coach people who try to escape any sense of responsibility, nothing is ever their fault, and their life circumstances force them to act in certain ways. This is also a mistake.
When you try to deny your responsibility for your own actions, instead of becoming free, you actually lose your power and become trapped by your own story. Having responsibility for your own actions is empowering, it gives you choice and choice means you have autonomy and power. If you tell yourself that you have no choices, that others and circumstances force you to act in a certain way, then you have no autonomy and thus no power.
And so you have to strike a balance. I am responsible for my choices and actions, but I am not responsible for how others react to me nor am I completely responsible for all of my life circumstances. Taking on more responsibility than that makes you lose your freedom to be yourself. Taking on less responsibility than that means you’re giving up your freedom to have choice.
And so really responsibility and freedom go hand in hand. You really can’t have one without the other. And this terrifies many people. Its why many of us run away from recognizing how free we really are. Responsibility is a scary concept. But it is hard to be truly happy if you do not embrace your inherent freedom.
KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.