Let’s say we all make a pinky promise; a pact of sorts like in the old days. A “Cross my heart, hope to die” sort of thing. Let’s promise ourselves we will no longer blame other people for our feelings or our bad choices. I am serious about this. Are you in?
It’s tough, isn’t it? Blame is such an easy game to play and it can have an important role for a while. But, like all delusions, the time comes when we realize that no matter what kind of brokenness we come from, no one bears responsibility for our feelings and actions but us.
It is reasonably easy for me to take responsibility for my actions. I don’t really blame anyone for that extra bowl of ice cream I had for dessert or the insensitive comment I made. No one takes the blame but me for forgetting to schedule the dentist appointment. Everyone makes mistakes of omission and commission. I think I do an OK job at taking the fall there when I need to. (comic courtesy of Doug Savage)
Teens, of course, have a tougher time with that. “It’s not my fault that ….” Fill in the blank. Some semblance of that comment is a fairly regular occurrence in my two-teenage-girls household. For some reason, the “I am wrong” synapse doesn’t connect in our brains until we are a little older. As irritating as that can be, it would likely be worse to have a child who accepts the blame for everything. The last thing a growing spirit needs is to feel blamed and self-blame about everything wrong in their world.
I wonder if part of the reason it is so hard for my daughters to take responsibility for taking the dog for a walk is because they really want to know if I mean what I say. This is difficult for me, because I am not someone who has an affinity with law enforcement. When they were young, it was about keeping them safe and happy. As draining as those years were at times, it is easier in some ways than now. Enforcing rules was not complicated. As children morph into adults, it gets a bit messier dancing between “for your well-being” and what they need to gain independence. It is a trusting and letting go time of life for parents.
The harder choice is accepting responsibility for my feelings. On one had, feelings just “are.” They happen, often without our initial consent; sometimes loaded with rage or fear or lust and other difficult-to-manage emotions. It can take a while to sort out what our feelings are; even as adults! They seem to come from somewhere outside of us, making us feel a certain way.
Brain and nervous system research indicates that what we think informs what we feel; not the reverse. For instance, I am in a dark alley and a dog comes running toward me and I panic. Let’s try this in slow motion. I am already alerted, as I am in a dark alley. My vision takes in a dog, who is (yikes!) running toward me. OK. Panic! It makes sense in a situation like this.
But, take it a step further. I see my dear friend on stage performing beautifully and I feel suddenly anxious and bothered with him. Has his performance made me feel that way? Is it something he said? Well, maybe. But more likely my brain is saying, “he’s good – but you are nearly as good as he is. You should be up there! And, btw, your songwriting is really superior to his. He had it made growing up in a family with performers. Too bad you didn’t have that advantage. Who knows where you would be.”
Chances are that all took place in about 3 seconds or less – and I did not choose to think such things about someone I care for. Can I change my feelings? Yes. And, in fact, I have done this. We may not be able to change everything we feel, but we can alter our thinking which will help moderate our feelings. This means, of course, that we are responsible for our feelings.
One of the central paths of spiritual growth is letting go. Letting go of thoughts which inhibit us. Letting go of our need to feel in control of everything around us. Letting go of our demands on time. Letting go of who we think ourselves to be to become who who imagine we could be.
Let’s play the un-blame game for a change. It may end up changing us.