It May Not Be Your Fault, But It's Always Your Responsibility
Imagine you come home to find an abandoned baby on your doorstep. Suddenly, the baby is your responsibility regardless of who left it there or why. You should treat everything in life like a baby on the doorstep. Even if think it’s someone else’s fault, it’s always your responsibility to do something about whatever situation you find yourself in.
To illustrate a point about taking responsibility for your life, Mark Manson, in his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k, gives the example of a baby on your doorstep. His argument is this. If you come home and find on your doorstep an abandoned baby, suddenly, that baby becomes your responsibility. Using that example scenario, he drew a distinction between fault and responsibility. It is not your fault, he goes on, that the baby is on your doorstep. But now that it is there, it is your responsibility, your decision, what you do about it. Even doing nothing is a choice that will have consequences (I will come back to this point later). In this article, I am going to propose how you can go about taking responsibility for everything in your life without fear, stress, and anxiety. I will do so by expanding on Manson’s analogy with two of my own – spam email and a dent on your car.
When good things happen, when life is good, we seldom bother to ask too many questions – about why things are good or whose responsibility it is. Often, we are quick to take credit for our successes. But when things go the other way, we are just as quick to look for scapegoats. Who is to blame? Whose fault is it? Who should take responsibility? In all but rare cases, the answer is, of course, always someone or something else. It always is. Whenever we find ourselves in an unpleasant situation, this (witch-hunting and scapegoating) is what consumes over 90% of our time. It paralyses us into inaction. But it shouldn’t be that way. There is a better way, one that requires you to take responsibility, to take full responsibility for what comes next regardless of who is at fault or to blame.
To make my case, I propose to add spam emails and a dent on your car to Manson’s baby on your doorstep. I am assuming everyone reading this has an email and, by deduction, has received or will receive unwanted (spam) email. When spam email lands in your inbox, it is your responsibility what happens next. Of course, in most cases, it is not your fault, although you may need to reconsider the kinds of websites you visit and who you give your email to. But the logical assumption is you did not send the spam email to yourself. Regardless of who is to blame (maybe you for using your email on dodgy websites, or Russian hackers, or a ‘Nigerian prince’ with an irresistible inheritance that only require YOUR bank account to access), the moment that spam hits your inbox it’s your responsibility. Very few people will expend any energy trying to ‘get to the bottom of it’, to find the culprit, so to speak. Often, we simply take responsibility by deleting it, moving it to the spam folder, reporting it, ignoring it (if you can’t be bothered), or (if you have a penchant for profligacy) responding to it. Whatever action you take or don’t take will have consequences. And it is entirely your responsibility (and yours alone) what happens next. This is what I mean by taking responsibility for everything that happens in your life. Before we round all this up, I will give another analogy, another popular and familiar irritation that irks most of us – a dent on the car.
So, you come out of the supermarket, struggling with an insurmountable number of carrier bags, the way one should when they visit the out-of-town superstore. You stop dead in your tacks, dropping the bags to the ground, your head pounding with fury. A massive dent on the rear of your car frowns at you contemptuously. There is no other car nearby, no other driver to ask, no note on your car. An idiot has bumped into your car and left, a parking lot hit and run. You could burst with fury, as you should. Who would do such a thing? Of course, you are not to blame for the dent. It’s not your fault. You didn’t want this. You don’t deserve this. No one does. But no matter how furious or annoyed you get or how this unwanted incident presents itself as an inconvenient nuisance and irritation, it is your responsibility what happens next. You have to decide what to do – whether you ask the store for CCTV evidence to claim compensation from the perpetrator, take your car to the garage and pay for the repairs yourself, claim insurance, do nothing. The choice is yours. The responsibility for what happens lies squarely with you and you alone. And every choice you make, or don’t make, will have consequences.
‘Sorry, but what do all these examples have to do with my life?’ you are probably wondering. Well, everything. That’s right. If you think about it, our lives are nothing but an endless string of instances and inconveniences that, although not of our doing, requires to make decisions about the best action to take - dents on our cars, spam emails, and, if unlucky, the rare (actual) baby on our doorsteps. We navigate effectively through life not by agonising why these things happen nor by looking for someone to blame or point a finger at. Instead, the best way to navigate through life is by taking responsibility. Fear, anxiety, and stress are products of uncertainty and, in many cases, our inability to assume responsibility. Responsibility is about taking ownership of every decision in your life – decision to act or not act.
So, when you are faced with a situation, any situation, don’t waste your time wondering who caused it and who is to blame and why it happened. Doing so only promotes uncertainty and can result in all manner of negative feelings. For example, wondering who dented your car and why will only increase your stress levels. Your brain may even start wondering if the act was targeted aggression or an accident. And before you know it, the stress turns into fear.
The best approach is to take responsibility and decide what you will do. And do it. Remember, doing nothing out of fear or choice-paralysis is still a choice, and therefore your responsibility. You could choose to step over and ignore the baby on your doorstep, ignore the spam emails, and ignore the dent on your car. But these choices of inaction have consequences. The baby may die, your inbox will get clogged, and the damage on your car may spread and cause corrosive rust. Doing nothing is a choice.
In closing, I challenge you to take responsibility for every situation in your life. Don’t waste time blaming someone or something else. Don’t dwell on the fact that “it is not your fault” or that you “didn’t ask for this”, or “didn’t choose this”, or “don’t deserve this”. Whatever situation, whatever life throws at you, if it’s right in front of you, it’s your responsibility. It’s your spam email. It’s the baby on your doorstep. It doesn’t matter who put it there. If it’s there, it’s now your responsibility to do (or not do) something about it.
If you are interested in more common-sense advice, or many other ramblings about life and happiness, and things of that nature, please grab a copy of my book, Quarrelling With Quotes or Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k.