Deciphering life's lessons almost always requires bucking up and taking a share of the big bad blame. Figuring out our unique contribution to circumstances and situations gone bad is no fun. It's icky but enlightening. Problem is, society these days seems more intent on teaching us how to eschew responsibility than shouldering it. It's always the boss's fault, the teacher's fault, our parents' or our spouse's fault. My personal favorite of late is the evil computer that I am able to blame for nearly every wrongdoing (while my husband often reminds me that everything is Microsoft's fault). The rounds of excuses become so convoluted that I'm pretty certain ultimate responsibility lies with that initial utterance of "Let there be light." Owning up is a lesson I learn over and over and well, over again. So, when I hear different ideas on how best to teach, and learn, responsibility I take notice.
A friend offered up a good tip recently. When one of her kids starts with a poor me attitude about how they've received a bum rap, she typically starts by stopping them in their tracks. Sure, she'll eventually listen to the entire story, and maybe even commiserate a (little) bit. But before the words start rolling, and the excuses pour in, she asks a real simple question. "What was your role in all this?" It doesn't seem like such a big question, but I've found it can prompt a different take on the situation. The question merely acknowledges that we all play a role in how life comes at us, and that it's not a bad idea to take some time to think about it.
I've been trying this approach at home, not just with the kids, but internally as well. Not so much "how could this have happened?" or even "what can I learn from all this?" Questions that tend to take the focus off of my role, and sometimes inadvertently avert responsibility. Instead, trying to focus on the role I've played, without the incessant chatter about what someone else did or said, distills both the conduct and the consequences into a genuine learning moment.
Modern day excuse theory is downright scary. I searched online for some uplifting advice on why we shouldn't make excuses. The first article that popped up was very informative, but not one I recommend. It gave great detail to kids about when and how to make excuses for not doing homework assignments. Despite the author's attempt to use as many euphemisms as possible, it finally boiled down to when it's appropriate to lie. Seriously?
There's also plenty of theory out there about why we live in an age overflowing with excuse. Fear tops the list. Fear of failure, or not living up to expectations are the commonly cited motivators for making a good excuse. On the flip side is the fact we tend to have more respect for people who actually own-up, bear the blame and even offer a genuine apology. In this heated political season it's refreshing when someone - anyone - genuinely takes responsibility. And when I hear someone - anyone - taking this step, instead of dismissing them as a failure I want to break out the party hats.
Sure, making excuses is nothing new, remember Adam and Eve and that whole apple fiasco? But there's wisdom that comes from our forefathers, relevant during this season, including our first president's view that "it is better to offer no excuse than a bad one." Or, his buddy Ben's advice I'll try to remember next time I come up with a doozy, "[s]he that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else." But, my all time favorite remains "excuses are like bellybuttons, everyone has one and they're all worthless." Author unknown (but I can still hear my pop's voice ringing in my ears ...).
Cindy Bargell is an attorney and mom who lives outside of Silverthorne with her husband and two daughters. She welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.