Saturday, December 17, 2011

Gratitude day 15: total responsibility

Today I learned to make candles.

On the ride back, my friend and I started talking about how if anything happens to you, it is completely your responsibility. I was raised this way. If I got mugged, my dad would say it was my responsibility for choosing to walk in that location, and have body language of an easy target. If I were betrayed by a friend, my dad would say I should have noticed the errant behavior leading up to it, and chosen friends more wisely.

At first it feels unsupportive, to undergo a bad situation and then be told how you could have prevented it. But then it is reassuringly powerful, to think of everything as under your control. It makes you focus on how to prevent future problems.


Jeremy said...

However, couldn't your philosophy lead to an unhealthy attitude of constantly worrying about things because you believe you need to be in control all the time?

If someone is gunned down at the post office is it their fault for deciding to mail a letter that day?

You can do what you can to prepare for the unknown, but you cannot prevent it.

lillers said...

Hmm, I actually think that's a dangerous way to live, to assume you have total control over what happens to you. Random acts of violence happen all the time, for which we aren't and shouldn't feel responsible.

Also, there is no greater illusion than believing you have total control :)

Anonymous said...

Definitely true for Rihanna with Chris Brown. Plenty of non-violent normal 9-5 guys would have dated her. Doubly true for women who don't leave a relationship AFTER a domestic. Have themselves largely to blame, so they shouldn't whine.

Mandarin said...

This can easily leads to a "blaming the victim" mentality if you are not careful. Of course there are different ways to look at it:

- I was mugged and it was my fault for walking in that alley (not too helpful, and blaming the victim instead of the perpetrator of the crime).

- I was mugged and it was my fault for not getting my black belt in Karate much sooner so I could kick the guys ass (Much more proactive and empowering)...

Anonymous said...

Life is a two-way street, and taking responsibility for your part needn't be debilitating. Don't want to get mugged? Be careful! But you could get mugged anyway, and if you're to careful you might miss other opportunities . . .

. . . some years back, my wife ran off with another man. Of course, everyone blamed her, but I found that unsatisfying: there were things I could have done better and missed. Live and learn! And since then, I work to be a better partner in my relationships: I don't want to get "mugged" like I did before, so I'm more careful, and I know there are no guarantees!

You're going to be a victim eventually. Of course, you can feel sorry for yourself, but you can also ask yourself what lessons have you learned: in most cases, if you survive the loss, you'll be a better, stronger, more empowered person.

(Though, yeah, some folks will just be paranoid wrecks. They didn't really survive their loss: did they?)


Anonymous said...


"Fool me once: shame on you!
Fool me twice: shame on me!"


Yishan said...

Feeling like they are or can be responsible for everything is actually something that people who suffer from anxiety disorders have to consciously try to overcome, as part of e.g. therapy.

On the other hand, if you don't suffer from an anxiety disorder, it's probably a very powerful way to live.

Anonymous said...

This is one manifestation of the just-world fallacy, which has been beaten to death by social psychologists for about 50 years. It is known to be a convenient mechanism for playing down genocides and other atrocities.

What does your dad think about personal responsibility with respect to passengers in plane crashes, healthy people who die of sudden brain aneurysms, and starving children? Not all muggings happen in high-risk places, and not all betrayals are preceded by errant behavior.

Perhaps it would be better to consider a more nuanced approach to risk management, e.g., enumerate reasonably likely disasters, and estimate costs (not necessarily monetary) of effective prevention to decide which ones are worthwhile. If someone is mugged in a bad part of town, you can say "perhaps she was not managing her risks well", or probably more appropriately, "the cost of moving away from that area was too high compared to her income level to balance the lower risk". This is one way you can avoid some of the unnecessarily charged language that comes with assigning blame and responsibility.