January 7, 2011

Personal Responsibility

   Somehow when I was a kid I taught myself the idea that I should never accept blame for anything I ever did. It was as if somewhere deep down there was this idea that if I ever did I would be in deep trouble with the parental units and authorities in my life. This in many ways taught me how to be the teacher's pet in school.
   One day when I was about a week before turning 18 years old I was sitting around the house thinking about my life. At the time I wasn't living at home but with a friend. I started thinking that I was about to be of legal voting age and that society had placed a large amount of trust on me at that point. I remember feeling that I was not an adult yet but would shortly be one. I remember feeling that once I turned 18 much of my life would be up to me and that before too long all of it would. I already was away from my parents and making a lot of decisions on my own.
   It was at this point in my life that I decided to take responsibility for my own actions. I knew that nobody else in the world could any longer. I knew that my parents did the best they could to teach me to be a good upstanding member of society but that from that moment on any mistakes I made were my own and nobody else was going to be there to cushion the blame. I remember this to be a sobering thought.
   Did I change over night? Heck no. As a friend told me, "We are the hero in our own story." As time went on I realized that my silly brain still hated to be wrong. I felt like when I was wrong those who discovered I was wrong would suddenly think less of me. By less I mean that I really thought they would start to hate me and think I was a fool.
   About 2 years after I had made my life changing decision I remember being faced with a particularly difficult situation. I was a volunteer living in West Africa at this time. One day I returned to our little compound where a few of us lived and was quickly taken aside by my friend. He explained to me that the shower we had been using was completely dirty and some guests came and commented to our leader about it. I was told that he was furious over the situation because we were expected to maintain a professional appearance as we hosted many people.
   Having received the heads up before I got yelled at I prepared myself with the truth. A moment later I was called over. I could tell our leader was getting ready for a good yelling. I walked up to him and apologized about the situation directly and told him that I was fully to blame and would try to do better in the future to maintain the guest bathroom and keep it spotless and clean.
   That day I learned a powerful lesson that when you take that responsibility straight away you also take the thunder out of chastiser's mouths. In this case our leader had barely anything to say after that.
   Fast forward a few more years. I'm living in Salt Lake City working at the same place as my older brother Tim. I was lucky to spend a lot of time with him as an adult where as a kid we didn't have much of a relationship, mostly because we lived in different states. I remember on many occasions talking about friends and family with him at lunch. I would make up excuses for their lives and situations that they were in. Tim taught me a rather interesting lesson that though seems obvious was completely disconnected in my head. He told me one day, "You are just making excuses for them. They are in the situation they are in because of their choices."
   It was a simple idea. I didn't realize though that taking personal responsibility is about more than just me. It's about all of us. In this case it was expecting adults to not need me to make up silly little excuses to explain away the fact that they create (at least for the most part) situations that are difficult or at times things that they are incapable of dealing with. Now that doesn't mean that they don't need or deserve help. It just meant that there was no reason to explain away bad decisions. I no longer felt the need to explain away my bad decisions or those of the people I love.
   It's really interesting what that did for me. Once I realized that I didn't have to excuse every mistake my parents made I started to realize that they are not infallible. I began to study some of the things friends and family told me as a kid. I decided that I could learn about things on my own and come to my own understanding of the world. Not that I had not begun but this new idea opened the doors for all sorts of information.
   At one time in my life I had been taught something or other about nearly every alternative medicine branch there is. I have since learned that most of them are completely bogus and are perpetuated by people looking to empty your pockets. Most of them have feed you the same misinformation which creates a vicious cycle that is hard to escape from without learning what that misinformation is.
   I was always taught that food additives
   Don't make excuses for your mistakes. If I have learned anything it is that people who are willing to admit they made mistakes learn from them. People listening to you admit them usually respect you for it. The motivating principle behind scientific and technological progress is that we often learn more from mistakes and failures than we do from success.