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By Michael Angier

Just How Much Responsibility Should We Take?

I'm a big believer in personal responsibility.

Did you ever wonder what our world would be like if everyone in it always took responsibility for themselves? There certainly would be fewer problems and less drama. I bet our 24-hour news programs would have a hard time coming up with enough material to fill the airwaves.

In my experience, people who consistently take responsibility are few and far between. Most people seem to find it easier to blame the government, their parents, their spouse, their kids or the star under which they were born for anything they don't like. It's a rare person who first looks at their part in producing the results in their life.

So on the one hand we have people who blame others and don't take responsibility. And on the other, we have those who take total responsibility for their lives. But in my opinion, this is not the full picture.

I believe the truly responsible person is in the middle of the spectrum rather than the opposite end. The far left belongs to those who take TOO MUCH responsibility. Instead of blaming others, they blame themselves.

I won't tell you that I've always been personally responsible. I haven't. I do my best not to blame others, and I think for the most part I succeed. But I've also fallen to the other extreme. I took too much responsibility—I blamed myself.

Blaming yourself is no better than blaming others. In fact, it may be even more destructive.

I've read of many veterans who felt guilt for having survived while their fellow soldiers were killed. My father, a B-17 pilot during World War II, writes in Ready or Not: Into the Wild Blue, about this feeling after his liberation from a German prison camp: "I had been having a difficult time relating to people . . . it was impossible for me to show gratitude. My sleep was sporadic, and nights were filled with remorse for my comrades who were lost and especially my three crewmen who died."

He's a caring man, and I believe to this day he still has similar feelings. But it's sometimes a fine line between empathy and blaming one's self. Feeling bad about the misfortune of others doesn't help them or us. It may keep us even more stuck.

And feeling guilt about what we've done or what we've failed to do doesn't help either. This is an over-sense of responsibility.

If you're one of those people who takes on too much, I hope you'll recognize this in yourself. In doing so, you can begin to direct your energy in a more constructive fashion.

In attempting to be a person of responsibility, we can sometimes slip into self reproach. The aim is to be personally responsible without blaming, without taking on too much.



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Last Updated 05/25/2005