Responsibility: urgh. Such an adult word.
It comes in sentences like ‘you need to take more responsibility’ when you’re happy coasting, or ‘come on, it’s time for you to start taking responsibility for these things’ when you have to start booking your own dentist appointments and car services.
I don’t know about you but I kind of hate being an adult. Responsibility pretty much sucks. The type that basically means ‘if I don’t do it then it wont get done’.
But there is another sort of responsibility that I do enjoy. It’s a kind that involves a bit of a tenuous breaking up of the word…
Another Kind of Responsibility
I recently spoke with Neil Hughes for The Haven after reading his book, ‘Walking on Custard and the Meaning of Life: a Guide for Anxious Humans’. There is a section in the book about the responsibility we have for the way we respond to our own thoughts and feelings.
“You don’t HAVE to feel anything in response to ANYTHING anyone does. If someone steels your coffee cup you can be amused by it if you want. You can be happy about it if you choose. There are no rules other than the rules we set for ourselves and the conscious choices we make.”
What a freeing idea. We can CHOOSE how to react. Maybe not in the immediacy, but once we step into the space between the event and our response, we have autonomy in our next steps.
When I read what Neil had to say about this kind of responsibility it became helpful to break the word up: to think of it as Response Ability.
We have the ability to respond how we choose… All of us. We don’t need to be dictated to by the way we ‘should’ respond, or the way we have responded in the past. In every passing moment we have the ability to choose our response to it.
You can grow that space between stimulus and response (Victor Frankl) and act as the person you want to become. This space is a laboratory. A place to experiment and develop your ‘response ability’. It’s actually pretty fun, especially when you start subverting other peoples’ expectations.
Embrace the enjoyment of surprising people. Get mindful about your reactions.
When Something Goes Wrong
Have you ever experienced a boss or leader that did this? You dropped the ball and fully expected a dressing down. Yet the wrath didn’t come. They responded with calmness and even helped you work out how to turn things around…If you have then that’s amazing.
If you haven’t then good news, you can be that person.
The culture in so many organisations is driven by blame. If something goes wrong people look for a reason, and the reason is rarely themselves. It’s other people or the present situation. This is the default response, not the best or right one.
Retaliation and retribution is a natural instinct. It’s what we want to do when someone or something hurts us. This response is not the same as justice, and it rarely leads to a good place. It spirals. It gets out of hand. It gathers momentum. It is often the response that the other person wants because it brings them a sense of legitimacy for their actions or even serves to help them justify further action.
You have the ability to respond in a different way. To take the higher ground. To choose to see things in a different way and react with dignity and strength of character. To subvert the expectations of the other party.
How do you react when you get disappointed that something hasn’t worked out the way you hoped?
People respond in different ways. I think my default is to quit. Others might keep trying the same thing expecting different results (insanity). While others might get angry, and apply their effort into blaming stuff and even sabotaging the efforts of other people doing similar things.
We all react in various default ways. What’s yours? It doesn’t have to be. You have the ability to meet disappointment with a response of your choosing, just open up and embrace that space.
What are you like when you get flustered? This makes me think of certain holidays; getting lost or losing important things like passports and tickets, trying to nagivate busy transport in a different language. Those moments when you feel panic rising from deep within and your head throbbing with adrenaline as your rational thoughts are replaced with the noise; ‘aghhhhhhhhh’.
Have you ever been with someone who has got themselves in this state? Does it ever do them any good?
In my experience it doesn’t serve to help. They make bad choices, rush things that need to be taken easy and turn a bad situation into a disaster. If you want the inspiration of an alternative just have a look at astronauts.
The most important trait an astronaut needs is calmness under pressure and the ability to move slowly through their task without panic, even in an emergency.
We saw this recently with the abandoned space walk when water appeared in Tim Kopra’s helmet. Even in a potentially disastrous situation there was no sign of alarm in the tone and behaviour of either Kopra or Peake.
This is an ability that we can all learn and develop. Even if your default response is flustered you can begin entering that space when something happens to fluster you. Take a deep breath and remember your response ability.
Do other people want you to be happy? This might sound like a strange question but response ability applies to positive situations as well as the negative. Maybe you have experienced people who gloat, boast, or just get really annoying when they succeed or are happy. Their response to joy is competitive and divisive. It is to imply ‘I have something you don’t and I want you to envy me’.
It’s a strange response. I’m not sure anyone would feel more warmly to a person behaving like that. And yet it’s often the response that comes when that person wants to be liked, respected and adored.
When good things happen step into that space. Allow empathy to dictate your next steps, and give people the opportunity and desire to celebrate with you rather than inadvertently chasing their resentment.
When in Competition
‘Wow, she’s very competitive’. Is that a positive or a negative? It probably depends on your worldview.
But for many introverts and highly sensitive people we equate displays of competitiveness with arrogance and aggression. And it’s not particularly appealing. We have a view of what it means to be competitive, which is win at all costs (including screwing others over).
But once again we have the opportunity to choose our response when we are engaged in competition. We can enjoy competing WITHOUT acting like idiots towards others. There are many examples of great sports competitors who are exemplary in their empathic attitude to their fellow competitors.
Response ability in competition is finding space to bring objectivity and empathy into the moment. This is exemplified in the difference between the way players respond to referee decisions in soccer to the way they respond in rugby union. In rugby there is a culture of space when the whistle blows. In soccer on the other hand the whistle is always met with irrational disdain and abuse, even when the players know the referee is correct.
Competition can bring out the worst in us, but it can also bring out the best. Give yourself space when the whistle blows to compete with integrity and balance.
Over to You
In which of these situations would you like to increase the space between stimulus and response? Please leave your answer in the comments below