‘No one can really pull you up very high – you lose your grip on the rope. But on your own two feet you can climb mountains.’
Years ago I heard on the radio that when Japanese weather forecasters failed to correctly predict the weather they had to explain to their superiors why their predictions wrong. I was dismayed. ‘How unfair!’ I thought. ‘They would have been doing their best. No one can consistently and accurately predict the weather.’ I pictured angry, puffy-faced men in suits castigating stressed workers.
Years later I realised the truth. There would have been no blame involved, no abuse. It was a good idea! By having to work out why their predictions were wrong, those forecasters would have gained knowledge, and over the years, improved.
On my soapbox at Speakers’ Corner I talk to my grasshoppers not just about happiness, but about other weighty matters such as why we should burn the Mona Lisa, why aliens will never visit the planet Earth, and the secret to fire-walking. (Hint: it’s physics, not mind over matter.)
Other speakers talk about God, politics, history, and why Isaac Newton was an idiot. (Sigh.)
One day, when I was asking my grasshoppers to look for the part they played when things go wrong in their life, a man spoke up. ‘That’s not fair,’ he said to me, ‘you’re blaming the victim! If I get beaten up in an alley, why should I look for the part I played?’
‘For a start,’ I told him, ‘I’m not suggesting you blame anyone. Blame is a cop-out. I’m merely asking you to look for the part you played. Be dispassionate about it. Be like a scientist making a scientific observation. Leave the judgements aside.’
‘But why should I look for the part I played if I get mugged?’ the man protested, ‘What about the mugger? Surely he’s the one at fault!’
I took from my pocket an orange and told the man, ‘I’m about to gently throw this orange to you. Catch it. Okay?’
He nodded, and I threw the orange to him. He caught it, puzzled, and gave it back to me.
I asked him, ‘In that little incident, what part did you play?’
‘I caught it, like you asked me.’
‘You did more than catch it,’ I told him. ‘First, you agreed to catch it. You remained where you were, facing me. You watched the orange arc towards you. You moved your arms to ensure you caught it. When the orange hit your hand, your fingers wrapped around it to clasp it.’
‘So, together we have just looked for the parts you played. There was no self-blame, no victimisation. It was simply a dispassionate but thorough examination of your role in the incident.’
‘So, if something goes wrong in your life, look for the part you played with the same dispassionate thoroughness. Ask yourself “What part did I play? What could I do differently next time?” We can learn a great deal when we ask that question. We also need to exclude factors over which we have no control.’
‘What about the mugger? What about him?’
I shrugged. ‘I’m not saying the mugger is not responsible for his actions; I’m simply asking you to review the situation and look for the part you played.’
‘What part might that be?!’ said the man testily.
I shrugged again. ’No idea. Probably no part.’
‘Huh? Then why look?!’
‘I’m not saying we necessarily play a part in our troubles; I’m only asking you to look for the part you played, in case there was a part you did play.’
‘What about the mugger?’
‘He has to take 100% responsibility for his actions. But that doesn’t stop you from taking 100% responsibility for the part you played, if there was one. That goes for all aspects of life. If you hire a tradie, the tradie should take 100% responsibility in fulfilling their obligations, while you take 100% responsibility fulfilling yours. When both parties take full responsibility for what happens, things get done.’
The man stared at me, doubtful. I continued: ‘Many a good marriage thrives on co-dependence, with each spouse taking 100% responsibility for the part they play in the marriage.’
I could see this grasshopper was not impressed. He said, ’So even if I’m walking about, minding my own business, and I get mugged, I still need to look to see if it was partly my fault?’
‘Fault isn’t the word,’ I told him. ‘But yes, you need to look for the part you played. You might discover you played no part, in which case, that’s it. If you do find that you played a part, you are closer to ensuring it doesn’t happen again.’
I added, ‘It’s a healthy habit to have. When you are in the habit of looking for the part you played when things go wrong, you get good at anticipating problems, and solving them. You become competent. You develop that feeling that whatever happens, you’ll handle it. Which means, of course, less anxiety and increased resilience.’
He wandered off. He had heard that bit before.
When something goes wrong in our life we need to look for the part we played, without the self-blame. We can ask ourselves: ‘What part did I play?’ and ‘What can I do differently next time?’ There may not be a part that we played, but we still need to look for it.
‘When you take responsibility for your decisions, you become a lot less angry at the world, and most important, a lot less angry at yourself!’
Susan Jeffers, from her book Feel the Fear and do it Anyway.
‘We have not passed that subtle line between childhood and adulthood until we move from the passive voice to the active voice – that is, until we stop saying “It got lost”, and say ‘I lost it.’
Sydney J. Harris. U.S. journalist.
‘With every failure, every crisis, every difficult time, I say, “What is this here to teach me?” And as soon as you get the lesson, you get to move on. If you really get the lesson, you pass and you don’t have to repeat the class.’
Q. ‘Mark, please give an example of someone employing this philosophy.’
Instead of saying, ‘My dog is disobedient,’ look for the part you play in your dog’s misbehaviour. You might conclude that you haven’t trained your dog properly, and that’s the part you can change. By looking for the part we play – without indulging in self-criticism – we get our act together. We start to solve problems. We don’t get the same problem recurring, because we have taken responsibility for it.
If we continue to blame the dog for its misbehaviour, ignoring the part we play, we will continue to encounter the same problems with our dog. And continue to look like a goose.
Another example? If we are in a relationship and don’t feel respected by our partner, we can either:
a) blame our partner for not giving us more respect, or
b) ask ourselves, ‘What part am I playing in this?’ and ‘What can I do differently? What do I need to do to be treated respectfully?’ We might even be prompted to ask a question like, ‘Why am I in this relationship?’
By looking for the part we play we discover the bit we can change. That empowers us. We become a problem solver.
Q. ‘If someone takes responsibility for how they respond to an incident, isn’t there a good chance they will blame themselves?’
Don’t confuse taking responsibility with taking the blame. The word ‘responsibility’ suggests ‘a duty to respond’. This section is not about taking responsibility for Life’s events, it’s about taking responsibility for how we respond to Life’s events. Self-blame won’t get you anything but suffering. To spend time blaming yourself is to avoid taking responsibility. It indicates that you’re not prepared to fix the problem.
Self-blame is merely a whinge about the past; taking responsibility is to focus on the future.
When something goes wrong in our life we can complain bitterly, but if we want to avoid a life of turmoil then it’s best we search for, and find, the bit we can change. And then change it. And then focus on preventing the problem from happening again.
Harping self-criticism won’t help. Nor will kidding ourselves that we played no part.
If you are feeling miserable about something, don’t continue to blame
‘When you stop blaming other people or circumstances for your problems you will cease being a passenger in your own life. Instead, you will find yourself in the driver’s seat going places you never thought possible.’
E M Hanley, No Problem!
Q ‘My wife and I are often late for appointments because she is so slow to get ready. I am ready on time. Why should I look for the part I play in the problem?’
By doing so you might solve the problem.
‘But it’s not my fault if my wife dawdles! I can’t physically pick her up and get her ready!’
If your wife continues to make you both late you might be contributing in some way. Or, you might not be. You will find the answer by looking for the part you play in the problem.
‘So, what can I do to get her moving?’
I don’t know, but it’s the right question.
‘Help me out here!’
You might ask her questions about what getting ready means to her. Does she benefit from taking her time? In what way? Does she benefit from being late? What would need to happen for her to be ready on time? What would she require?
Be tactful. Don’t ask questions to make her feel bad, ask questions to find answers. Be aware that your wife might not know the answers. Rephrase the questions if necessary.
By asking these questions you are taking responsibility. You are not trying to force her to change her behaviour; you are looking for the part you play. Her answers might reveal that part. For example, her answer might be that she gets enormous pleasure from the act of getting ready; it’s a ritual she relishes and one she won’t rush. That means, the part you played was to not realise that, and not allow for it.
Or, there could be another reason. Whatever the case, it’s your job to search for the part you might play.
Q. If I had been locked in a closet for the first ten years of my life, surely I could blame my parents if I became neurotic? It would be galling to have to look for the part I played in being neurotic!’
You would have every right to be angry and blaming – that’s part of healing. But blaming your parents for your misery until you die won’t help. To get over your ordeal, at some stage you would have to cease blaming and look at the part you play in the pain you feel.
‘So you want me to look for the part I play in my suffering?’
Yes, without the self-blame. Because it could help with your healing.
If, for example, you find that you are avoiding seeking help, or dwelling on the incident, or maintaining the rage, you might choose to change that behaviour.
‘So the closet-lockers get off the hook?’
They’re not absolved. But you need to heal. By looking for the part you play in your suffering you will get closer to healing.
Q. ‘If I look for the part I played every time something goes wrong, I will feel burdened.’
On the contrary, you will feel lighter and stronger, and far more resilient, because you will find that the solution to many of your problems rests with you. That’s empowering. It’s the people who refuse to see the part they play in their troubles who feel burdened, because they encounter the same problems over and over. They have given away their power.
Lloyd: ’I taught her, but she still can’t do it.’
Can you see Lloyd’s mistake? What if Lloyd instead asked himself, ‘She still can’t do it. What part did I play? Did I spend enough time with her to ensure she learned the task properly?’
Lloyd might then be prompted to ask himself, ‘What is another way I can teach her? How can I ensure she learns?’
By looking for the part he played, Lloyd is closer to achieving his aim.
Jenny: ‘His antics spoilt my night.’
Can you see how Jenny disempowers herself with that sentence? But notice what happens when she looks for the part she played: ‘Why did I allow that to happen? What could I have done to prevent it? What can I do to ensure it doesn’t happen again?’
Wayne: ‘My boss ruined my day.’
Weak, hey? But what happens when Wayne looks for the part he played:
‘Did I allow it to happen? No. There is nothing to suggest that I consented in anyway to that.’
‘Could I have done anything differently? No, my boss would have done the same thing anyway.’
‘What could I do to ensure it doesn’t happen again? Nothing. I can’t think of anything.’
So, Wayne looked for the part he played in the shemozzle and found he had played no part. But importantly, he looked for it. We don’t always find a part that we play. Wayne may be unable to fix this particular problem with that approach, but if Wayne lives his life that way he will benefit considerably. He will significantly add to his inner authority.
‘Take your life in your own hands, and what happens? A terrible thing: no one to blame.’
Looking for the part we play is often not easy.
I can think of times when I looked for the part I played and didn’t find one. Then years later I looked again, and found I had played a part after all. I hadn’t looked hard enough the first time. For example, I was once in a discussion with two friends and asked a question I believed to be fair and important. The result: The friendship ended. I looked to see the part I played and decided I had played no part. After all, the question needed to be asked.
Years later I looked a little deeper, and realised I had played a part: I should have asked the question tactfully, and discreetly. I had played a big part in the demise of our friendship after all.
Complete the following sentences by looking for the part you played.
Example: Instead of: ‘They cheated me out of my money’, try ‘I inadvertently let them to cheat me, and in future I can check applicants’ references to ensure I am not cheated that way again.’
‘They pressured me into doing it.’
. . . . . . . and in future I can . . . . . . to ensure it doesn’t happen again.’
‘They treat me badly,’
. . . . . and in future I can . . . . . . . . to ensure it doesn’t happen again.’
‘No one takes me seriously.’
‘He stole from me.’
‘You make me feel like dirt.’
‘I failed the test because you distracted me.’
‘I fixed it but it keeps breaking.’