An extraordinary understanding of and orientation towards responsibility: “I am cause in the matter of …”


The ordinary understanding / orientation of responsibility

What is my ordinary, taken for granted, understanding of and orientation towards responsibility?  I say that it is pretty much captured by the following definition:

  1. The state or fact of having a duty to deal with something.
  2. The state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something.

Is this a powerful place to stand? No. Who wants to be beholden to duty?  Doesn’t duty show up in my world as a burden?  A burden that is imposed on me by someone else?  Isn’t some element of the burden present even if I say I have a duty to do X and not Y? Looking into this further duty is given/imposed upon me by some outside authority including religion and culture.

Then there is the territorial orientation towards responsibility.  I particularly notice this at work where marking out territory and defending it can be and often is important.  Often the orientation is something like “This is my responsibility!” where the hidden message is I own this, it is my business and I don’t want you involved.  Or the orientation is that of “It’s not my responsibility!”  Either way the orientation is territorial.  And we use territory to assert ownership and exclude each other.

Who wants to leave himself open to blame, to criticism?  I don’t, I really don’t, I absolutely do not look forward to being criticised and even when I criticise myself I do not feel good.    Is it any surprise that many of us avoid responsibility and accountability as we wish to avoid being criticised, being blamed?  Isn’t my first response, your first response, something like “It’s not my responsibility.  It’s not my fault, I am not to be blame.  So leave me alone, let me be.”

Werner Erhard makes a great point. Blaming does not work.  Look there is spilt milk all over the floor.  How is blaming myself, or blaming you help with the situation?  No amount of blaming, responsibility pinning, is going to deal with the spilt milk.  The appropriate course of action is to mop up the milk!

Self-help orientation towards responsibility

If you read enough self-help literature you are going to come across the notion of ‘responsibility as response-ability’. That is the notion that between the stimulus (that which triggers your response) and your response (to that stimulus) you have a window of opportunity to choose your response.  That is you have the ability to choose your response.

Look into this deeply enough and you might just find that the phenomenon of stimulus-response is more complicated than that.  It is mood dependant.  When you and I are in the mood of being calm/relaxed then the window of opportunity is large enough to choose our response.  On the other hand if you and I are stressed, pre-occupied, grappling with our stuff, then the response to the stimulus is automatic.  Yes, we can unlearn this behaviour and it is likely that it takes many many hours of practice.

Werner Erhard: an extraordinary understanding / orientation towards responsibility

There is a radically different way of understanding and orienting oneself towards responsibility.  An understanding and orientation that leaves one in a powerful position.  Werner Erhard came up with and articulated this understanding.

The first point to make is that Werner Erhard’s definition/orientation is not a description of what is so. No, his orientation is generative.  What does it generate?  Possibility.  And a powerful place to stand when it comes to how your lives have turned out and how they can turn out in the future.   So what is Werner’s definition/orientation toward responsibility?

For any situation in our lives, in the world, I can freely take the stance: “I am responsible for……” as in “I am cause in the matter of…..”.   And in taking this stand I move from showing up as victim of the situation, or simply a bystander looking on the situation, to being someone who declares himself to be a causal agent, someone who has a say in the situation at hand and how it turns out

Let’s make this real. I have been experiencing disappointment, frustration, anger, bewilderment towards one my sons and how he behaves.  And we had a relationship that goes along with that: mainly one of ignoring one another.  I was clear that he is responsible for his behaviour, I am not responsible for it.  It is he who talks disrespectfully.   It is he who leaves stuff lying around the house.  It is he who walks into and all over the house with dirty shoes making a mess.  It is he who picks on his brother and sister simply because he is bored.  Standing in this ordinary orientation towards responsibility I was left feeling powerless, a victim of my son’s behaviour.  And I was wondering how it was that a child that I lavished love and attention upon turned out this way.

My wife provided the opening for me to get present to and take Werner Erhard’s orientation toward responsibility as regards my relationship with my son. She simply told me that my ‘bad behaviour’ shows up in the absence of relationship.  This got be present to taking the stance, freely/voluntarily, that “I am cause in the matter of my relationship with my son.  I have contributed to what is so.  And I have the power to influence how our relationship turns out.”  With this shift in orientation, I led, I became the causal agent.

I asked myself the question, what is missing the presence of which will make a difference here in my relationship to my son?  The answer was simple, spend 1 to 1 time with him doing what we both enjoy doing.  And give up blaming my son. Since then I have been playing pool with my son several times a week, we have gone to the cinema, we have played badminton and we have cooked together.  Interestingly, I notice that mutual affection and respect is present.  Two days ago my son said “You know Papa you don’t have to do so much for me, I know that you love me”.

Summing up

Coming to grips with and living from Werner’s articulation of responsibility, as in the sense “I am cause in the matter of…”, is fundamental pillar of living an extraordinary life. This understanding, this orientation, allows me/you/us to move from a position of resignation (I can do nothing, I have to put up with life) to one of authorship/leadership (I have a say in how the situation is and how it turns out).  And this shift from resignation to authorship/leadership/causal agent makes all the difference to my experience of living and your experience of living in this world that we co-create and inhabit together.

On freedom, choice and responsibility


A conversation with a young woman

I was in communication with a young woman recently and the conversation went something like this (this is the best I can do from memory):

Me: “Is the light on inside?   Is joy present on the inside?”

Her: “No.  It hasn’t been present for a long time.”

Me:  Why not? What is getting in the way?”

Her: “I feel trapped – living this life, here with my parents, my family. Sometimes, I think about running away and starting a new life, my life.”

Me: “What is preventing you from taking that step, moving out, living your own life?”

Her: “The impact it will have on my parents, what it will do to them.  Sometimes, I get so angry with them that I hate them for keeping me here, living this life.”

Me: “I see, you get that you have choice and you have made the choice to live with your parents and the life that goes with that.  I don’t get why you are blaming your parents.  Your parents are not responsible and do not deserve your blame/bitterness/anger. You are free to leave any time you wish.  Yet, you choose to stay.  So you are the person who is responsible for the life that you live and your experience of living.  You are responsible for your unhappiness, you bring this on to your self.”

Her: “Don’t say that.  If  believed that then I’d want to kill myself!”

Freedom, choice and responsibility

Yes, we are thrown into this world and we don’t get a say in where we are born, whether we are born male or female, healthy or unhealthy, who are parents are, what kind of circumstances we are born into, what culture we are born into, what schools we go to (if we go to school) etc.   Yet at some point we grow up and are no longer children, no longer dependent and at the mercy of others.  Like this young woman we leave home, we go to university, we get an education, we dabble/experience the bigger world, we get to stand on our own two feet….

I say that the process of ‘growing up’ is coming face to face with freedom, choice and responsibility. As beings-in-the-world we are faced with choice.  You could say being confronted with choices and making a choice is the evidence of our freedom. Even in the most difficult of circumstances where what we can and cannot do is severely limited we still get to choose: we get to choose our attitude towards ourselves, others and the circumstances in which we are embedded.  Put differently, sometimes we get to choose between two flavours of ice cream say chocolate or vanilla.  And sometimes life presents us with only chocolate and even though we get only chocolate we are free to choose  our attitude, our stance towards chocolate being present in our lives.

With choice comes responsibility.  Put differently, we are responsible for our lives and our experience of living – just as it is and just as it is not. Look, sometimes I feel sorry for myself when I look at how my children behave.  And when I look at the situation honestly/courageously I see that I am totally responsible for what is so.  When my children were younger, many people – wife, parents, parents-in-law, friends – pointed out that I was allowing my children too much freedom, not setting strong boundaries, not being controlling enough.  And I ignored all of them. Why?  I was committed to allowing my children the widest degree of freedom. And I reasoned that as they got older I could talk with them, reason with them and they would regulate their behaviour so as to get on/along with the people around them.  My theory did not work out as I had anticipated that it would work out.

What is the ultimate choice that confronts us?

I say that the ultimate choice that confronts us is the choice of owning our lives or not.  Owning my life is owning freedom, choice and responsibility.  I am free to make choices and I am responsible for the choices that I make and that which flows from and shows up from the choices that I make.  So, ultimately, each of us takes, is taking a stand towards freedom, choice and responsibility – whether we are present to making this choice or not.

You and I can look honestly at lives and face up to/get that we are the authors of our lives:  that we get a say in how we live our lives, how our lives turn out, our experience of living.  As such we can invent/project/live from and live into possibilities that move-touch-inspire us.

Or we can pretend that we are victims (like this young lady) and when we are confronted with ownership/authorship of our lives, our experience of living, we can strive to shut out this conversation  that confronts us with our freedom, choice and responsibility.

What choice are you making?  Are you owning your life and your experience of living?   If you are owning and being responsible for your life just as it is and just as it is not then who is owning / being responsible for your life?  

I know where I stand: the most powerful place to stand for me, is to own my life and my experience of living just as it is and just as it is not.  And being the owner, the author, of my life I am free to imagine and take different paths through it. This matters because it puts hope, possibility, new worlds into my life, my living. It is this stance that opens up a transformation in our living, in our world.

Suffering: pathway to compassion, relationship and a ‘world the works’?


Suffering is intrinsic to life and living

Suffering has been present in my experience of living for the last few weeks.  Is there anything special about this?  No, to be a human being is to be a being-in-the-world that is indifferent to my existence, his/her existence, your existence:  the world does not deliver my existential needs and/or does not fit into the model of the world should be (according to me, to my culture) and wherever either of these two conditions are present, suffering shows up.

Given that suffering is present in my house-of-being what is a useful way to be with it, to handle it, to work it?  Do I run from this suffering?  Do I embrace it, grasp on to tightly, suffer in silence and thus relate to myself as a martyr and give some meaning to my suffering?  Or do I embrace it, make a joke of it, display it to the world in order to get sympathy or admiration?  Do I lash out to those who I hold to be responsible for the causes of my suffering?  Do I inflict suffering because I am suffering?

Does suffering beget suffering in the ordinary way-of-being in the world?

I found that I was pretending to be OK with suffering when I was not OK with suffering.  And standing in that place I was not at peace and not available to any person who came into contact with me.  Worse, I was ready to blow up at the slightest annoyance.  How do I know this?  I became present to this when I blew up with several people including my mother. Did anyone deserve my behaviour?  No.  These people were doing what they do pretty much always.  Usually, I deal with that as their way-of-being in the world and let it go, swim with it.

What did this suffering my mine allow me to get present to?  Suffering begets suffering unless one is present to one’s suffering, becomes intimate with it, and thus uses it to allow compassion to flourish.   And yet, I really do not wish to be with my suffering.  I wish to run from it, minimise it, rationalise it……  And when I do this then I hurt the people who are around me.  Is it possible that the people in our lives who show up as least deserving of our kindness, our time/attention, of our generosity are those who occur as being selfish, inconsiderate, aggressive?  Yes, it occurs to me that the people who are in most need of our kindness, our generosity, our patience, our benevolence, are the ones that, in the ordinary way of being, we are least likely to be kind towards.  And so I, you, we contribute to the endless cycle of suffering.

Can suffering open a doorway to compassion, relationship and a ‘world that works’?

What else did I get present to as I was suffering?  It occurred to me that my experience of my suffering was similar to that of Ivan Ilych.  I was in a state of suffering and the people around me where busy with their lives.  Were they indifferent to my suffering?  I don’t know.  Did they even know/get my suffering?  I don’t know and I am confident that I hid it well.  Am I blaming anyone?  No.  I have done and probably am doing exactly the same: being not present to or simply indifferent to the suffering of those who live.

Can you and I use suffering powerfully – to generate compassion, build relationship and contribute to a ‘world that works’ with none excluded?   I came across these words of wisdom from Krishnamurti which helped me get a more useful relationship to suffering (mine, yours, his, hers) and they may do the same for you:

Why am I or why are you callous to another man’s suffering?  Why are we indifferent to the coolie who is carrying a heavy load, to the woman is carrying a baby?  Why are we so callous?  To understand that, we must understand why suffering makes us dull.  Surely, it is suffering that makes us callous; because we don’t understand suffering, we become indifferent to it.  If I understand suffering, then I become sensitive to suffering, awake to everything, not only to myself, but to the people about me, to my wife, to my children, to an animal, to a beggar.  But we don’t want to understand suffering, and the escape from suffering makes us dull, and therefore callous….. the point is that suffering, when not understood, dulls the mind and heart; from it, through the guru, through a savior, through mantras, through reincarnation, through ideas, through drink and every other kind of addiction – anything to escape what is…..

Now, the understanding of suffering does not lie in finding out what the cause is. Any man can know the cause of suffering; his own thoughtlessness, his stupidity, his narrowness, his brutality, and so on.  But if I look at the suffering itself without wanting an answer, then what happens?  Then, as I am not escaping, I begin to understand suffering; my mind is watchfully alert, keen, which means I become sensitive, and being sensitive, I am aware of other people’s suffering.”

And finally

1. Let’s own our suffering.  When you and I own our suffering then we stand in a powerful place to be with our suffering correctly and take the appropriate actions.   We move from being helpless / being victims and step into being the authors of our lives.  And as authors we are in a position to invent new possibilities that leave our experience of living transformed.  Even when we cannot escape our suffering we may be able to transcend our suffering by giving meaning to our suffering that leaves us with self-esteem.  Viktor Frankl, who spent two years or so in WWII concentration camps, has much to say on how to be with / transcend circumstances when one cannot escape from them.

2.  Let’s open our eyes and our hearts to the suffering that is all around us.  And with these open eyes and hearts lets be compassionate and act with kindness so as to show up as being caring/considerate human beings in the lives of others.  It occurs to me that the people that most need our compassion are the ones that show up as the least deserving of our compassion.

Step into freedom: Speak


To speak or not to speak?

Freedom is a choice – choosing to speak and live our truth.  Right now I, you, we are presented with a great opportunity to speak, to share, to contribute, to live our truth.  Yet, most of us choose not to step into this opportunity.  Recently, Seth Godin wrote:

“You are invited to speak your mind online.  To post thoughtful comments and tweets and posts.  You’re given a place where you can post your music, or your art or your photography or your take on the state of your industry…..

Most of us refuse.  We don’t want to be a part of a community that would have us, apparently.  So we sit quietly and watch and take notes and absorb instead of joining the club of contributors.  Retweets are more common than tweets, and listeners are more common than singers.  

Because we believe we don’t belong.  That we’re not qualified.  That someone with a louder microphone is better than we are….”

I can relate to what Seth is pointing at

For many years I thought about speaking my truth and I did not.  What stopped me?  I had decided that I had nothing worthwhile to contribute.  I was convinced that I could not write.  And most importantly who would want to listen to my speaking, a nobody amidst ‘the giants’.  I would walk over to CustomerThink and admire the work of others, ‘the giants’.  And walk away convinced that I simply did not have what it takes to be there amongst the ‘giants’.

In September 2010 I chose to write – to write as a form of self-expression and to learn blogging by blogging.  I had no big plans, no dreams, just a commitment to share my authentic voice.  And to write a minimum of two posts a week.  Around March 2011, the Editor of CustomerThink noticed my blogging and invited me to syndicate my blog to CustomerThink.   Yesterday,  I took a look at the website and noticed something that took me by surprise and delighted me.  Take a look (click on the visual) and see if you notice what I noticed:

Have a look at the Top 10 authors.  Who is included in that Top 10?  It turns out that enough people find my speaking worth listening to.   Perhaps I am not a pygmy after all.

My challenge for you

Perhaps I, you, we are not and never were pygmies amongst giants.  Perhaps we are simply ‘hidden giants masquerading as pygmies’.   Why not put on the boots of courage,  take a step into freedom and speak?  Really, what do I, you, we have to  lose?  Do you want to get to your deathbed and wonder how your life might have turned out if you had been courageous and shared your gift, your point of view, your truth?

A good friend translated this poem from Urdu and sent it to me.  And I want to share it with you standing in the possibility that it may inspire you to speak, to speak your truth.

Speak

“Speak…..

Speak, for your lips are free
Speak, the tongue is still your own

Your delicate body is your own
Speak for life is still your own

Look for in the blacksmith’s shop
Fierce are the flames, the iron glows red

The jaws of the locks begin to open
Every chain has spread open its self

Speak, this brief time is enough
Before the death of body and tongue

Speak for truth is yet still alive
Speak, say whatever you have to say”