Last week I outlined some problems that arise when a person is confused about what he or she is responsible for and I posed a question: What guidelines help you to know where your responsibility lies? Hopefully this gave you food for thought, and you had some good ideas.
Here are some guidelines I’ll offer for your consideration, ideas to add to your own.
You are responsible for the following:
- How you treat others – You should treat others with the respect they are due. However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that this means that you either can or should make someone else’s life be what they want it to be. When someone says, “If only you had done…” or “this happened because you…” that person may be trying to blame you for what he or she is unhappy with. But, if you know you are right about how you acted, be confident when you face someone who disagrees. Don’t let the person bully you into being responsible for him or her.
- How you treat yourself – It’s up to you to make the life you want, including decisions about which relationships you will be part of. In your life, do you follow your own ideas, preferences and goals? Or do you treat them as being less significant than those of people around you? Ask yourself who sets the agenda for your life. Are you the one who decides what you will do and what choices you will make? Will you allow yourself to be disrespected when you can prevent it? If you are in a bad relationship, will you change or leave it if necessary? Will you stay in a career that isn’t right?
You are not responsible for the following:
- How others treat you – The way that others act towards you is better seen as reflecting on them and their relationship skills, not you or your personal worth. This is true even if it is family that treats you with disrespect. We all encounter people who don’t respect us as they should. Remember, your value as a person is not lessened when you are treated badly. Don’t let someone’s negative message about you become the message you tell yourself.
- How others treat others – Imagine that you have a family member that hurts another, but you take it upon yourself to fix the problem. The result is that you can get them off the hook, but was anything learned? Unlikely. It’s even more likely that the problem will repeat in the future.
- How others treat themselves – You cannot make someone happy. Even if you try to influence them, they can make choices that make their lives more difficult. You can encourage them, warn them, listen to them and advise them, but you cannot make people live a life they don’t want to live.
Sometimes it is hard to be sure where the limits of personal responsibility lie. Too often, people confuse caring for someone with being responsible for them. Yet, even in the relationship where one is most responsible for another – that of a parent to a child – the level of responsibility decreases as the child grows and becomes more responsible for him or herself, and then becomes fully responsible.
Of course, when you care for someone, you can’t be indifferent to them. We all seek to do what is best for those we care about. Yet, there is no mandate to disregard your own importance any more than that of another. Indeed, for some people, it might be better to reverse the Golden Rule and say, “Do unto yourself as you would do unto others” because they do so much at the expense of their own legitimate needs and plans.
Giving credit where it is due, let me note that the ideas I explored above were derived from material created by Dr. Dan Green, New Life Resources, Waukesha, WI.