By Dori Tyau
Personal responsibility…what does that mean to you? Well, it’s certainly something that has been ingrained in me from childhood…although I never heard it being phrased that way. Simply put, if I did something wrong, I needed to “fess up” and admit to the wrongdoing, whatever it was, and take my punishment! During those years, I have to say, there wasn’t a lot of “talking” about what I did, it was mainly about my parents trying to teach me what was right and what was wrong, and that there were rules, and if I dared delve into the “wrong” side of the world, or break a rule, there were consequences. Not very sophisticated, but that is what I remember from my early years. As I have lived and grown into this phase of life called adulthood, I will say that my definition of personal responsibility has certainly evolved.
So, what does it all mean, or maybe a more appropriate question is what have I learned? Well, in my opinion, there are specific steps or stages that make up taking personal responsibility. It starts with knowing when you’ve made an error, done something wrong or took an action that has led to the harm of someone or something. Once you know it, you have to own it and that could mean acknowledging to someone other than yourself, what you did or didn’t do. That’s probably the hardest part because it’s sharing with someone else, your sense of guilt, embarrassment and failure. In my eyes though, that is all part of the accountability structure and an essential piece to the process.
The next step really is critical because not being able to get through this step can inhibit you from productively moving forward. At this point, it’s all about forgiveness and accepting the fact that you are human and everyone makes mistakes. I know personally, I can get really stuck here and beat myself repeatedly because I feel so terrible. It’s like the saying goes, “you are your worst critic.” So true, at least for me and I imagine, for many of you as well. I have come to realize that this part of the process is important because you need to be able to feel the pain, whatever the pain is about, and then let it go. Once you do this, you can truly move on to the final stage which is the learning piece.
Although all the stages are important, I think this is the one that ultimately validates the whole process, if time is taken to learn from what has happened. I’m sure you’ve heard before, “mistakes are okay as long as you learn from them.” If you can take yourself through the full process and end up at a place where learning has happened, enough to affect and influence you down the road in your journey through life, then that really is the essence of what it means to take personal responsibility.
This is by far, not necessarily an easy process or as quick and straightforward as I just described it, and of course, the more serious or significant the error or action was, the harder it will be to get through the stages. Having said that though to not push yourself through the process can have other consequences for you that may not be apparent at the time, but may surface later. Kind of like the wound that doesn’t quite heal or the cough that doesn’t quite go away…you may try to convince yourself that you’re fine and it will go away in time, but the reality is, you’ve skipped a step in the healing process and therefore, the healing actually takes longer, or something worse happens. The point is, there are some things in life that don’t bode well to cutting corners or skipping steps and as silly as it might sound, as far as I’m concerned, taking personal responsibility is one of those “things.” It really is a process.
Let me end by saying that I don’t profess to be the expert and certainly it is a continual learning piece for me every time I am faced with this type of experience. It’s not easy to admit fault, or tell someone about it, or forgive yourself for it, or put in the time and effort into learning from it…but it all boils down to doing the right thing and making a conscious effort to better yourself, even when it’s really painful and easier to take another route. But that is the work you do with your youth, yes? Teaching them about choices, taking responsibility, admitting to wrongdoing, accepting consequences, forgiveness, learning from one’s mistakes and moving on…one day at a time. It seems to me that when you can live that and teach it, you have given your youth the tools to get through at least some of the challenges they will encounter in their journey through life. That to me, is powerful.