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The Good News: It's All Your Fault!

Aug 17, 2007
Men, here is a liberating revelation: It's all your fault!

What? What does that mean?

Here's how it works: If you-at least within yourself- assume at least some portion of the responsibility for every unpleasant situation that arises in your life, that means you can do something about it! You can change it. You have empowered yourself. You are not a victim, but a victor.

On first consideration, you may not find that statement liberating. In fact, I think most people spend a lot of time and energy making sure that whatever else something is, it's not their fault.

What a waste of opportunity!

No matter how terribly some other person has behaved, if I can find out, for instance, why I am in that person's sphere of influence, or why I am letting what they do get to me, or why I choose to react as I do, then I can plan an exit strategy. I can release that person, both mentally and emotionally, and start seeing to what extent I am part of the problem.

Once I see that, I can plan how to change what I say and do that feeds into the problem. Or think of a way to sidestep the problem. Or create a context in which to confront it head-on. Or find another friend, employer, employee, or colleague. Or think through how I got into this fix in the first place, so I can gain some insight as to how to get out with honor. And not to get "in" again!

Taking blame gives you leverage in the situation. You'll never see someone more shocked than when you tell them, "I'm sorry; that was my fault."

When you then go on to say exactly what part of what happened was your fault, they won't argue or be upset that you refused to take the blame for what THEY did. They'll be too amazed, and maybe even relieved, that you said those magic words, "I'm sorry."

Here's an example of empowered blame-taking: "I'm sorry; that blowup between us was my fault. I shouldn't have interrupted you with that question when I could see you were under a lot of stress that day."

This means that the other person was extremely rude, but you are trying to find a way to make them look good, and let them know you don't hold it against them.

Another example: "You were right, Barbara. I shouldn't have rescheduled the meeting without personally making sure everyone was notified." You're only saying that you ordinarily rely on your assistant to do this, but in the case of such an important meeting, you should have checked that everyone was planning to attend.

On the other hand, every time you place the blame elsewhere, you give up your power to change things. You declare yourself to be a victim of circumstance, of someone else's actions. All your effort goes into explaining what should have happened, and why things are the way they are, instead of into changing them.

Taking some aspect of the blame puts you in charge of the situation at least to some extent-enough for you to be able to start changing things for the better. You are no longer a victim.

Nowhere is this seen more poignantly than in marriage. And while it applies to both husband and wife, the fact is that women have less of a problem accepting blame and responsibility than men do, but less realization of how this can empower them.

Many of us learned in childhood that punishment follows blame. Even if we were caught red-handed, we learned to say, as Adam did of Eve, "She made me do it! It's not my fault!"

Shockingly, the highest court in Italy recently issued a lenient sentence to a Nazi collaborator because he had been acting under orders when he commanded-and physically took part in-the killing of several hundred Italian men, women, and children for the "crime" of being Jews.

The court accepted the defense's statement that the man would have been killed himself had he not carried out the orders. This is a terrible precedent: "I was only following orders" is now an acceptable defense for unspeakable crimes.

Another example is the increasing incidence of law suits in which people who have obviously done something foolish sue a company or government agency-presumably because they see them as having "deep pockets," so lawyers are willing to take cases against them "on contingency."

Two men ignored warning signs and walked into a subway tunnel. After they were electrocuted by the third rail, their families sued the transit authority of the city, and won large settlements!

But if you want to take a good character with you when you leave this planet-whether your departure is due to natural causes or hitting a third rail in a subway tunnel-taking responsibility for wrong action is the right thing to do. Whether by mistake or design, you did it, and you are responsible for the consequences.

But the interesting thing is that accepting the blame is an empowering act. Now that you accept responsibility for the act, you have the right to do something about the consequences.

You are not a victim of the circumstances or of other people's bad intentions; you are in control. Even if all you can do is make restitution, and resolve to act differently in the future, you are changed for the better by the process. You are, in fact, liberated by it.

Doing the right thing when you have done the wrong thing is good practice for the real lesson: Building character by seizing responsibility.

I don't mean that you should falsely blame yourself. I mean that you should not miss an opportunity to find some way in which you may have been responsible for, or have allowed a situation, because that insight is often the first step out of a difficulty.

That is, when you can find any way that you have contributed to a difficulty in which you find yourself-even if it is someone else's fault-you can regain control of your circumstances by admitting your part in the blame, at least to yourself. The very admission is empowering, opening the door to ways in which you can further liberate yourself.

Think about all the situations in your life where you feel victimized by circumstances or by others: Someone else gets "your" promotion. You get laryngitis the night before the most important presentation of your career.

Or you return to your parked car, find a big dent in the driver's door, and a note under the windshield wiper: "I'm sorry to have backed into your door. The people who saw me do it are watching me write this note, and think I'm telling you where to reach me. I'm not."

And so on.

In each of these situations, you have a choice: You can bemoan your fate, or take responsibility for it. I am not saying to take blame in the usual way. I am saying to take ownership of the situation as much as you can. It puts you in the driver's seat.

You can research the circumstances of the missed promotion to make sure it doesn't happen again. You can start paying attention to your health, to keep up your immune system. You can rethink your car insurance coverage, as well as your parking strategy.

And at the very least, when life hands you lemons, you can make lemonade: The missed promotion can help you reconsider that independent business you've been thinking about, or that educational opportunity you've wanted to pursue.

You can emulate nutritionist and public speaker David Mainz, who whispered his entire presentation into a sensitive microphone when he was struck with laryngitis recently-and got a standing ovation at the end of the talk.

And you can collect humorous notes-like the one you found on your windshield-into a book, and have it published.

The Bottom Line: You can't help what happens to you, but you can help what you do about it.

Even in the most limiting conditions, we can choose. In the movie Braveheart, actor/director Mel Gibson portrays William of Wallace, a historical figure, who-having been betrayed by those who should have been his friends and allies-is in a prison cell.

While awaiting public torture the next morning, the woman who loves him offers him poison, so that he can die quickly and avoid the torture and public humiliation.

A lesser man might have counted himself a victim, and taken this easy way out. But Wallace's only concern was to die a good death-one that would be consonant with his being, one that would not defile his integrity.

He prays for strength to die in a way that will underscore all he has lived for. And it is granted him- portrayed in one of the most moving scenes of human courage in cinematic history.

I've learned to embrace responsibility-and it certainly did not come easily to me. When my wife points out a problematic situation that involves me, my first response is, "I'm sorry. Help me find out what I can do to fix this." Then we work together on a solution.

This simple choice of response turns every challenge to our relationship into an opportunity to make it closer than ever. When I first learned to do this, I kicked myself for all the time I'd wasted before absorbing this point; but that was a waste, too. Now I just appreciate the process.

Take responsibility. Go where it leads you. Seize it joyfully, for in so doing you take charge of your life-and your destiny.
About the Author
http://AwesomeMarriage.com - Dr. Joel Orr, "The Marriage Fixer," is a world-renowned consultant, speaker, and author. He and his wife, N'omi, have coached married couples for 25 years. His "Every Man a Hero, Every Woman a Coach" (www.everymanahero.com) - is fast becoming a bestseller.
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