Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. is a seasoned clinician with experience working with adults, couples, families, adolescents and older children since 1976. His aim
Responsibility:A detachable burden easily shifted to the shoulders of God, Fate, Fortune, Luck or one’s neighbor. In the days of astrology it was customary to unload it upon a star.
Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, 1911
You are responsible for the world that you live in. It is not the government’s responsibility. It is not your school’s or your social club’s or your church’s or your neighbor’s or your fellow citizen’s. It is yours, utterly and singularly yours.
How many adults do you know? What exactly is an adult? My light-hearted and serious response when asked about adults?-“Don’t let the big bodies fool you!” Adults are neither as common as you might naively assume, nor as rare as you might reasonably expect. That doesn’t mean there are all that many out there, and what do I know? Look in the Webster’s New World Dictionary, Third College Edition and find “adult” defined as “grown up” and “mature in age, size, strength, etc.” Then, look up the word “mature” in the same source and find “fully developed, as a person, a mind, etc.” Seems rather circular, doesn’t it? Does anyone really know what is being described? What are we even talking about?
It’s also easy to come across a slew of quotes that ennoble children and ridicule adults. Is all this just so-called grown ups being envious of and yearning for the joyful, carefree playfulness of youth and employing self-depreciatory humor cheaply aimed at adult’s mundane responsibilities and muted affect? Consider another view, like the above quote by misanthropist Ambrose Bierce, which skewers adults as chronically blaming others and call it a day, instead of owning total responsibility for their own lives.
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Just look at what adults actually do. Adults usually do engage in gainful employment on a regular basis, take care of their self-, partner-, family- and extended family-care. Adults are answerable for their life obligations, including employment, bill paying, house chores and upkeep, and being as good as their word. Adults are held responsible for what they sign up to do in both their public and private lives, such as what they say, write, promise and do. Adults are held accountable for their actions and commitments in life, whether that is in a relationship, marriage or friendship, in a work environment with meeting both the letter and spirit of their job description, and in the community being a worthwhile citizen in regard to keeping their house and yard kept up, being informed of community issues and welfare in addition to political candidates and public issues, and regularly participating in the voting process. When you watch what adults do, this does have a ring of maturity in being full developed as a person. Actually being an adult in all these ways is rather a high watermark to meet for almost all of us.
So you might ask, what’s so hard being an adult after all? Well, to state the obvious, it isn’t one bit bloody easy, and hardly getting easier with all the modern times in the Western world brings in terms of diversions, distractions, entertainments, mobile devices, gaming platforms/games, internet, speed of life, governmental regulation, dealing with bureaucracies and stupidities, and the exponentially increasing stuff of life to somehow fit in the same 24 hours a day, 168 hours a week, just like everyone else. Who has the time? Who has the passionate fire in the belly? Is it all to run faster away from all the ego-mind’s saber-rattling fears, ultimately of death, nothingness and annihilation, or is it all to run faster toward all the ego-mind’s dreamed up selfish gratifications, greedy attachments and wants media-manipulated into supposed needs? It’s like being caught in a vice, a stranglehold, somewhere between a rock and a hard spot, all orchestrated and choreographed courtesy of one imaginary self or ego-mind.
It is proposed that self-responsibility or self-accountability is the quintessential defining attribute to qualify as an adult. The word responsibility literally means “response-ability,” that is, possessing the ability to respond. So self-responsibility means to not only have the ability to respond, decide and choose, but further to participate in an engaged, most practical possible fashion in taking responsibility for your entire life. See the attribute of being responsible for oneself as at once having the capacity, the willingness and actually enacting in the behavior (sometimes called “praxis”) of living moment to moment. Self-responsibility can be seen in taking care of doing what you said, promised and signed up to do, without any if’s, but’s, blaming others, rationalizations, reasons, or sniveling excuses for not doing what there is to do, as long as there’s some way within the parameters of reality to honorably do it.
This character trait of self-responsibility is synonymous with self-accountability. In a like fashion, accountability literally means “account-ability,” that is, owning the ability to account for your own life. To be self-accountable means to be answerable for the obligations and duties you have in your life by the very nature of being a live human being in the web of life on planet Earth. Any one who is self-accountable answers fundamentally to him- or herself in honoring a code of living, ethics and integrity that goes to the depth of who every one of us actually is, on the highest, deepest and broadest of levels, and ultimately on the indwelling and transcendent Divine realm. It’s actually pretty simple, and clearly not an easy mark to ever approach, more or less fully inhabit this vision, and we can.
While this vision is the top of the top, what are the critical building blocks that create a solid foundation to both enable and empower any one to inhabit self-responsibility or self-accountability? Consider seven keys to get in gear and count on yourself as your own authority in life:
1. Presence, that is, the experience of living in the present moment: Only by showing up in this here-and-now moment can self-responsibility and self-accountability come on-line and be authentic. Also add the complementary skill of witnessing, that is, in presence standing aside to observe who we think we are (the imaginary or false sense of self or ego) to reveal, see through and dissolve its false authority and fear-driven influence.
2. Honesty, that is, telling the straight-up, nothing left out, truth in life: Purely by playing with a full-deck in being a stand-up guy or gal can anyone take responsibility and accountability for his or her own life.
3. Stalwart, that is, exhibiting solid, stable and disciplined words and actions: When anyone has genuinely traversed an extended learning curve, much like learning in the trenches of long, hard and smart work and often as an apprentice with one or more mentors, whatever abilities truly built and owned communicates a solid, stable, disciplined and aware sense of oneself in having some clear idea what makes you tick.
4. Congruent, that is, words, actions, facial expression, body language and tone of voice all communicate the same message of clarity: When one’s whole body and being sends a singular and undivided message across all levels of expression, what gets transmitted is something greater than the sum of these parts-it communicates a trust and confidence that what is seen, heard and experienced is real, authentic and true.
5. Not knowing and being open: To bring the maturity to fully value not knowing and staying wide open translates into being available to all inputs, creativity, possibilities, brainstorming, innovation and perspectives on life working, all of which are core attributes to bring in developing self-responsibility and self-accountability.
6. Win-Win/Non-Zero-Sum Game: Being a mature grown-up entails shedding the me-me-me primitive ego’s attachment to itself and playing a much bigger game of what works for everyone, literally a win-win or non-zero-sum game. Here one brings an attitude of no scarcity of anything and a surplus of everything for everyone to meet life’s demands.
7. A rock-solid commitment in action to grow: Possibly the rarest character trait on the planet for human beings to bring-a rock-solid commitment in action to grow. To bring the publically stated intention to grow, a time and place for this to occur, and the follow through in direct actions to completion, the three components of a commitment and when accomplished on a regular basis pointing to a committed person, self-responsibility and self-accountability are palpably self-evident. There is no stopping such a being in any set of circumstances in powerfully harnessing and channeling their energies, talents, skills and abilities in transforming and transcending all obstacles in ever-arriving and inhabiting their full creative expression. This may well be the greatest personality attribute and character trait you can bring to any transformational process, whether expressed in a therapeutic process, meeting the highly challenged circumstances relationships regularly present, or in effectively facing and dealing with change in its multitude of disguises however it arises in this present moment.
Have you ever considered what would allow you to die peacefully and even joyously? This may seem like a morbid question to ask, yet only by making peace with death can anyone fully live. Since it’s only the ego-mind and body that dies, and not who any one of us truly is, this takes all the pressure off. Some of the most admirable, impressive accomplishments blossom from the most everyday activities. Begin by inhabiting presence, witnessing the ego-mind and living your Authentic Self. Next, see the possibility of being a really wonderful offspring to your parents and an equally tremendous parent to your children. Add the possibility of being a loving, understanding, patient and supportive partner in your committed intimate relationship. Include the further opportunity of being a terrific, loyal and truth-telling friend to another human being. Consider having made an authentic contribution in having truly touched others and having left some enduring legacy of achievements or your presence itself. What a wonderful addition to this handful of marvels to honestly be a whole human being, having built strong internal strengths and a capacity to bear strong emotional states, in truly being an adult. I’m game. Are you?
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