Earlier this week, I was reading a feature story on the controversial self-help program MITT (Mastery in Transformational Training).
Why is the program controversial? Because while many swear by it… others find it abusive, manipulative, and cult-like. Multiple participants have even sued the company after experiencing psychotic breaks following the training. (But hey, it’s in the name of growth and helping people. So it’s all good, right?)
At one point in the piece, the journalist interviewed the founder of MITT. And the founder explained her belief that people need to take responsibility for their choices.
“It’s like this,” she said. “You know, I’ve been victimized in my life. You’ve been victimized in your life. But if I still constantly walk around being a victim, who has my power?”
She added, “I’m not saying if you’re raped, you’re not a victim. But you know what I would say? That then again, it’s how you choose to look at it. How you choose to look at everything in life. I can say, like, ‘Well, you know…’ I can say, like, ‘I shouldn’t have been there.'”
I stopped reading for a second.
That’s not what taking responsibility is about.
I mean, there is a touch of truth in what she first said. If I’m always clinging to the identity of a victim and using that as a crutch, I am giving away my power. Blaming others or feeling sorry for myself isn’t the most powerful choice I can make.
But at the same time, the MITT founder is completely wrong.
When it comes to traumatic events, there is, well, TRAUMA. I don’t think you can or should just handwave that away. The pain IS real. And to heal, you have to actually work with that. (Usually with a therapist, mental health professional, or at least a trusted friend who can help you navigate the process.)
Saying you “shouldn’t have been there” is just shifting the blame to yourself.
It’s not actually working with the real issue.
Because the real issue isn’t what happened in the past. (It’s not like you can go back and do anything about that anyways.) The real issue is how you’re responding or coping with it in the present.
To me, true responsibility has nothing to do with blame… including blaming yourself.
True responsibility is saying… “OK, this thing happened. And, what powerful action can I take in this moment right now.”
Maybe that powerful action is to grieve or fully feel the pain. (And to seek out help processing it!)
Maybe it’s to launch a huge movement and protest with banners in the streets.
Or maybe that powerful action is to accept the consequences of your actions. To make things right with the people you hurt. To learn from it. And to do what’s necessary to make sure you grow and prevent future harm.
This isn’t easy.
Trust me. There’s probably (read certainly) a ton of things I’m not taking responsibility for right now. Yet I keep discovering that we unleash a lot of power when we start taking full ownership over how we live.
Let me give an example.
This may sound like a small thing, but it’s had a big impact on my quality of life.
A few years ago I came to a shocking realization about winter weather. See, Chicago can get pretty cold — especially with the icy wind gusting off the lake. There are colder places in the world, but the cold is still easy to complain about. But here’s what I realized one day…
I choose to live here.
Both my wife and I have remote jobs. We could move if we wanted to. But for a number of valid reasons (such as our local community/friends), we choose to stay.
And guess what? Cold winters are part of what you get when you live in Chicago. (Plus, it’s not like complaining is a very productive action. Wishing it was warmer is not going to make the wind stop blowing.)
So I bought a warm coat and (mostly) embraced the weather.
I’m not perfect with this by any means. But overall, I try not to obsess about the cold. It’s just there. The weather is the weather. I can still live my life either way. Sometimes, I even find the snow and ice beautiful.
That’s what I mean about taking responsibility.
It’s choosing to act with power and grace no matter the circumstances. It’s about taking ownership over the one thing you have control over… your response right now.
Life may be hard.
It may keep throwing horrible things at you.
But what action can you take anyways? How can you generate new possibilities with your response? What’s something beautiful that could you create out of the chaos?