"When we take no responsibility for any aspect of our past, we limit our ability to respond in the present and the future."
~ Bill Crawford

“When we take no responsibility for any aspect of our past, we limit our ability to respond in the present and the future.”
~ Bill Crawford

Responsibility – The Ability to Respond

This quote came to me a while back while having a philosophical discussion with my youngest Niky, who, at the time, was a senior and about to graduate from high school. The topic was “responsibility” and what I saw as his occasional tendency to abdicate his role in any past problem, or any situation that didn’t turn out the way he (or his parents) wanted it to.

According to Nik, this was mostly due to his love of humor, and he was quick to let me know that my perception of him as one who sometime shirks responsibility for past mistakes was to a large degree, inaccurate. In other words, he said that most of the time he was just kidding, and that this was especially true when he exaggerated the “It’s not my fault!” reaction.

Given that he is the expert on what he is thinking and feeling, I was certainly willing to acknowledge that this might be true because he is so good at acting, there are times when I can’t tell when he is kidding or being serious.

Of course, my purpose in discussing this topic with him was not to make him feel bad (guilt, shame, etc.) about the past. As those of you who follow my “Life from the Top of the Mind” philosophy know, I’m not an advocate of feeling bad in order to do good.

What I do advocate, however, is that we can be well-served if we can look back on most problematic situations in the past with clarity, confidence, and creativity.
Clarity about what we would do differently (knowing what we know now)? confident in our ability to bring this new way of being to life in the future, and able to tap into our creativity in order to pull this off.

The phrase I like to use when looking back on what I said, felt, and/or did in the past is “Good information. Knowing what I know now, how do I want to do this differently in the future?”

Just to be clear, my suggestion that we take more responsibility for the past in order to have the “ability to respond” in the future, is not meant to blame the victim or suggest that what has happened to us in the past was “our fault.” This is especially true when we are talking about what happened to us before we became adults. In fact, finding fault or placing blame on either ourselves or others is in my opinion a big part of the problem.

For example, if we blame others, then we are making a statement that our success in the past (and therefore also in the future) was/will be beyond our ability to influence, and that we will have to control others in order to be successful.

If we blame ourselves (“Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! What were you thinking?”), we minimize our intelligence and imply that we are not someone who can be relied upon to make good decisions. Plus, in both cases (blaming ourselves, or blaming others) requires us to hold on to the pain of the past in order to keep us from making a similar mistake in the future.

Instead, I suggest seeing past mistakes as “good information,” and if clarity, confidence, and creativity are the qualities we want to bring to our decision-making now and in the future, then let’s ensure we are accessing the part of the brain where these qualities reside (the Neocortex, or “Top of the Mind”).

How do we do that? By asking ourselves a neocortex question, or a question that can only be answered by the upper 80% of our brain, i.e. “Knowing what I know now, how do I want to do this differently in the future?” and or, “If I were giving advice to someone I love about how to be successful in this area, what would I tell them?”

Both of these questions will allow us to focus on the only time we can influence? now and in the future. Plus, they result in our brain beginning to create images and make plans based upon what we want versus what we are worried about, afraid of, or ashamed of.

Bottom line, the more we can own our influence in the past, the more we can exert our influence on the present and the future, and isn’t this what we all want?

~ All the best, Dr. Bill