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Taking Responsibility; Offering Grace
Often, when we think of “being responsible”, many of us think of paying our bills, attending family gatherings, being on time, going to work, paying our taxes, etc. While that is accurate, there is a deeper level to peer into. One that affects each of us every moment of every interaction we have with others. And the question is, what does responsible communication look like? What does it mean to take responsibility in our interactions? A woman was out eating at one of her favorite restaurants. She ordered a dish and made a request for a modification—she wanted feta cheese instead of cheddar. Seemingly, a simple change. When the dish came, the modification did not. She immediately blamed the waiter saying, “I told you feta”, quite indignantly. The waiter became defensive and clumsily blamed it on the kitchen, apologized, taking the dish back and soon brought out a new one with the feta cheese. The rest of the service cycle remained tense and curt. Perhaps the waiter was in error. Perhaps it was the kitchen. Perhaps she did not speak loudly enough when she made the request. What is certain is that she chose to blame rather than take responsibility. If communication is about attaining some outcome, we could say that on the surface, she was successful; she got what she wanted. Or did she? Every moment, we are faced with a choice to increase consciousness or decrease it. Something happens and we can either become more aware—rising to the occasion, or we can blank out. There is a more subtle aspect to this choice—we can either blame or we can take responsibility. Both choices have consequences: the underlying ability to build or undercut self-esteem. At the same time, both choices have underlying dynamics: blame causes people to contract and defend. It can cause them to regress; to withdraw to more stable ground. And it supports pre-rational ego while undercutting the development of true self-esteem—for both parties, actually. While taking responsibility increases true self-esteem while necessitating the transcendence of pre-rational ego. It requires expansion, and gives both parties room to grow and evolve; to transcend. Blame=causes regression=contraction Responsibility=requires self-transcendence=expansion Imagine the same woman eating in the same restaurant making the same request. The waiter brings the dish, having made the same mistake, and this time, the woman makes a different choice. She notices and, taking responsibility for the effectiveness of her communication asks, “Did I forget to mention that I wanted feta?” The waiter, feeling the space to take responsibility says, “You did. I am terribly sorry, let me fix that for you straight away.” The waiter brings it back with feta and informs her that dessert will be on the house. Instead of tension, there is a sense of openness and rightness and equitability in the sequence of events. Each and ever day we engage in communication cycles with other people. Each and every day we consciously or unconsciously experience the dynamics of those interpersonal interactions. They impact us and impact others. The example in the restaurant is a mundane example. But you can begin to notice even now, having turned your awareness to this aspect of your experience, how often you can make this choice in very meaningful contexts. How often have you blamed [explicitly or implicitly, subtly or obviously] your lover, friend, husband, wife, mom or dad, when something did not go the way you wanted it to? How much has your intimacy with them suffered as a result? How many times have you not achieved some outcome because you were righteously indignant with a service representative, rather than gracious? The truth is that most of us are not even aware of the costs of our behavioral choices in intimacy and frustrated outcomes. The added stress and tension. The inflated ego and undermined self-esteem. Given that self-esteem has been called the immune system for life, it is worth caring for. Strengthening. Supporting. Every moment we each have a choice: increase our awareness or decrease it. And once there we have another choice: take responsibility or blame. To regress or transcend. What will you choose?