“That we are free to think or not to think, and to live responsibly or irresponsibly, reflects the essence of what it means to be human. This freedom is our burden, our challenge, our glory… We create ourselves through what we are willing to take responsibility for.”
What does it take in order to assume ownership of your responses so that you fully recognise your power to respond? What is required for a person to become a response-able person? Often, we see in our coaching sessions that one of the biggest causes of stress for leaders and individuals in general is what we refer to as “crossing the sanity line” – from responsibility for and responsibility to. How can we ensure that we stay on the sane side of this line, so we don’t spiral into what Alfred Korzybski calls “unsane” (being out of touch with reality but not insane)? Throughout this blog we will explore what you are responsible for and to and how to keep this sanity line in place in your daily interactions so you can step into your highest and best.
Responsibility literally refers to the ability (the capacity and the competence) to respond to things. And when we break down this ability, it comes down to your most basic responses or powers of thinking, emoting, speaking, and behaving. These are your most fundamental powers. No matter what happens, you can always make a mental response, an emotional response, a verbal or linguistic response, and a behavioural response.
The essential idea within responsibility is that of power, energy, vitality, ownership, proactivity, and taking initiative. Given all of that, who would be against that? Who would resist any of that? And yet we do. And not just a few of us, we all do. We resist because it is easier to complain. It is easier to “explain why” we can’t do something, why something is too much, too hard, will take too much energy, money, etc. It is much easier to blame and to find fault with others. Ah, here we see the opposite of responsibility - playing helpless. If you are not taking responsibility, you are playing the victim, thinking, feeling, and acting as if you lack the power to respond as you would like too.
What else are you doing when you are not taking responsibility? You are making excuses. You are excusing yourself from action and from making a response that makes a difference. You are whining or complaining or focusing on objections and using your intelligence perversely to excuse yourself from excellence, from your vision, and from your highest and best.
This topic of responsibility will come up whenever you enter into coaching. Expect it. Expect that you will make excuses. Then what? What do you do then? That’s when you access and utilise the resource of ownership or responsibility. And you will do that by asking yourself responsibility-evoking questions…
- What is your decision? What will you decide or choose?
- Given this, what will you do?
- What response will you now make when X happens?
- What are you now choosing to think, feel, say or do?
- What will you do about that symptom?
- What will be your highest and most noble choice?
Fully Responsible but not Omnipotently Responsible
One challenge of entering into coaching is that of fully accepting responsibility for yourself so that you become self-responsible in a healthy and robust way that supports and actualises your best potentials. To do this will unleash increasingly more of your possibilities and potentials and make you more alive to your unique contributions.
There are some extremes to voice as you think about responsibility. One extreme is to not overdo it and assume that you are responsible for everything! You are not. Enthusiasts for responsibility have often gone to extremes with this. “I am responsible for everything I create.” “I totally create my reality.” These ideas are often propagated by “new age” thinkers but they are wrong in their grandiosity and extravagant claims. Whilst free will is a force in your life, it is not the only force.
The truth is that your responsibility and mine is limited and limited in numerous ways. What is that and how is that? One thing that creates this is the fact that all of your choices and response-abilities are fallible. That is, they are not infallible and not omnipotent. You could only be absolutely and totally responsible only if you were God - infallible, omnipotent, and omnipresent.
Next, the responsibility that each of us have is limited by how our actions as responses interact with each other. What if several of us try to respond to a person being mugged at the same time and in doing so get in each other’s way so that we complicate things and make a mess of our rescue efforts? Or what if a group of people observe someone in need and each assumes that someone else will respond. There’re all kinds of ways that our responses (and responsibilities) can intermingle. What this means is that most things are over-determined by a great multitude of contributing factors. Things are not so simple as to have one and only one factor that “causes” it. Reality, and especially social relationships, are multi-caused.
Maslow addressed this when he noted that there’s a limit to one’s responsibility; “one cannot be everything to everybody.” Not only that, but “I must allow people their own responsibility.”
Another clarification; Responsibility does not mean blaming. Assuming responsibility has nothing to do with blaming, not even yourself. Instead, to assume responsibility is to acknowledge a response that you made and the immediate effect that it has created. You can even acknowledge the responses of others to it - and how they chose to respond or react.
Blaming, by contrast, is about accusing. It is about getting out your weapon (your index finger) pointing and making accusations about what others are doing. Yet to do that is to act as if you have no ability or power to choose your responses - which obviously is false. You do have certain powers by which you can respond and that makes you a response-able person.
Actually, it takes “the power to respond” in order to self-actualise your inner visions into outer performances. That’s why responsibility plays such a vital role in the process of actualising yourself.
Responsibility For and To
Let’s begin with your powers to respond. No matter what happens, you always can and do respond, and in fact, you always do respond - even if only inwardly. You respond with your mind by thinking about it, representing it, relating it to other things, pondering it, creating ideas and beliefs about it, making decisions, setting frames and understandings about it. All of this relates to the most internal world of your thoughts. And in this private domain, no one can make you think anything. Yet they can trigger your thoughts. They can invite you to think in a certain way. But in the end, your thoughts are your thoughts.
Further, whatever you think about something - that thought creates and governs your feelings about it. Your feelings, emotions, and moods are also responses. They describe your emotional responses to things. So, whatever happens, you are always responding at an emotional level. You feel. And generally, as you think about it, so you will feel. This creates energy, somatic energy, in your body so that you can do something about your thoughts. And whilst you sometimes regress in times of stress to a more primitive state and say, “You make me angry” or afraid, or jealous, or happy or whatever, the truth is that your emotions like your thoughts are your emotions.
Those are your two private powers, and, from those responses you have two public powers. Publicly and outwardly, you can respond with speech and behaviour. These are your linguistic and behavioural powers by which you can influence the world and actually do something as part of your response. And again, whatever you say, whatever linguistic skills and competencies you develop and use as part of your response - it is your response - your power.
First the 'For'
Not only is there a distinction between private and public there is the distinction between what you are response-able for and to. The first speaks about what you can do that comes from out of your area of control and the second speaks about how you use those responses as you give them to various people. So, what are you responsible for? I’m sure the answer is obvious. I am responsible for the responses that I can make. You are responsible for your mental responses (your thoughts), your emotional responses (your feelings), your verbal and behavioural response (what you say and do). And all of this responsibility for describes accountability. If you are not responsible for these things, then who is? This is your area of control.
Now the 'To'
The tiny little word to describe relationships. By your public powers of speech and behaviour you relate to people, groups, teams, organisations, etc. and so when you are responsible to someone or a group, this creates all kinds of relationships: familial, friendship, cultural, career, governmental, and so on. These are the systems that you live in and the persons, groups, and communities to whom you answer.
And now - The Line
Let’s now draw a line to separate and distinguish relationship (responsibility to) and accountability (responsibility for). Draw this line so that you can distinguish two kinds of responses that you make. First identify a response forwhatever it is that you are thinking, feeling, saying and doing, and then we identify to whom you are making this response.
The sanity rule here is simple to understand, but very difficult to put into action. It is this:
You are only response-able for the responses that you generate mentally, emotionally, verbally, and behaviourally. Your ability to respond (responsibility) ends at your nose or the edge of the reach of your arm. You cannot be responsible for much that goes on beyond this line.
The first distinction (responsibility for) enables you to access your inner game of personal power. Highlighting your four powers (thinking, emoting, speaking, and behaving) you circumscribe your “power zone” and give it a definite area with boundaries. You defend where and how you can respond and what lies beyond that area. As you then focus on and develop these functions within this zone, you empower yourself. When you focus on things outside this zone, responses that belong to others, you disempower yourself.
The second distinction of responsibility to focuses your attention on the exchanges you negotiate with others as you step into, and out of, relationships. In your interactions with others, what you give and receive are the external responses of speech and behaviour. It is what you say and how you say it with your actions that you use to negotiate with. When you negotiate, you ask that another person speaks and behaves to you in certain ways. Making these distinctions, clarifies roles and relationships and so enhances sanity, that is, a good adjustment to social and inter-personal reality. A consequence of this is that it reduces your stress. It enables you to navigate the waters of inter-dependency with others and to avoid the shoals of co-dependency.
When you know what you are responsible for and accept it, you take a big step to sanity, to clarity, and to effectiveness. Similarly, when you know the persons with whom you relate you take another significant step forward towards personal success. Now that you can clearly define the responses that you are responsible for, the responses you are to give to them. Then you can determine if you have a healthy or unhealthy relationship or an interdependent one or a co-dependent one. As you now take care to make these unique distinctions you develop the ability to use responsibility as another aspect of unleashing your potential.
If you would like to find out how Coaching can take you to your next level of development, contact Modo here for your introductory, no obligation, 30 min coaching session so you can try it out for yourself.
This article was co-authored with Dr. Michael L. Hall, Meta-Coach Co-Founder.
Dr. Hall’s doctorate is in Cognitive-Behavioral Psychology is from Union Institute University, Cincinnati Ohio. His dissertation explored the languaging of four psychotherapies (NLP, RET, Reality Therapy, Logotherapy) using the formulations of General Semantics. He addressed the Interdisciplinary International Conference (1995) presenting an integration of NLP and General Semantics. His Masters degree was in Clinical Counseling and Psychology from Regis University in Denver Colorado and his Bachelors of Science was in Management of Human Resources. Prior to that he took a Masters in Biblical Literature and Language.
As a prolific writer, Dr. Hall has written 58 books, another 30 serial books, over 100 published articles, and is recognized as a leading NLP Trainer and Developer. Most notable of the models is the Meta-States Model, also The Matrix Model, Axes of Change, etc. Michael co-founded, with Dr. Bob Bodenhamer, Neuro-Semantics® in 1996 as a field which focuses on meaning and performance.
As a modeler of expertise, Dr. Hall has completed 27 modeling projects which include modeling resilience, self-reflexive consciousness, “thinking,” communication excellence, sales, persuasion, accelerated learning, wealth creation, women in leadership, fitness and health, cultures, leadership, collaboration, and more.