So many people these days seem to be lost in a sea of complaint and blame regarding their life circumstances, little understanding that much of their plight comes from their own lack of action when difficulties arise. Make no mistake here: I am not saying that all is rosy out there, nor am I saying that you are the one responsible for all the greed and power-inspired ills that seem to bedevil us.
However, I am saying that what you do about what befalls you may be significantly more important than the actual events themselves. Most people will struggle with this notion if not violently reject the idea. That's perfectly understandable. The moment you accept responsibility for your reactions to anything that is happening around you, you have no way back. The moment you recognize that you are the one choosing your reactions, the blame and complain game ceases to have power over you. Not that you can't slip back into the game -- after all, it is sadly all too familiar for so many of us these days. But the game will no longer work as well once you experience that you are the one choosing how you respond. As my friends Drs. Ron and Mary Hulnick write in their profound book, Loyalty to Your Soul, "How you respond to the issue is the issue."
Philosophers have noted this phenomenon seemingly forever. Voltaire quipped, "Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do." That one is worthy of consideration all by itself. When was the last time you thought of something good you could do, whether for yourself or your neighbor, and chose to do something else instead? Most of us don't have to look too far back in time to identify some choice we avoided, failed to make, or simply deferred to someone else. Even if the only thing you did was "step over the trash" in the hallway, you both contributed to the degradation of the environment as well as failed to the good that was right in front of you. This may seem almost inconsequential until you realize that not much of consequence takes place without those little micro-steps of conscious choice to make small improvements.
"No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible" is another wonderful way of capturing this essence. While often attributed to Voltaire, this appears to belong to Polish poet Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, from his 1969 work More Unkempt Thoughts. Regardless of source, the snowflake metaphor contains a powerful underlying message often echoed in the more common "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."
So what about your own troubles? Perhaps you might consider the possibility that personal problems avoided and avalanches not prevented perhaps best devolve into one of two questions: "Which problems are you perpetuating by your own snowflake-like absence of responsibility," or "Which good have you forsaken by your own lack of action?"
One of the not-so-obvious-but-oh-so-powerful aspects of this approach to how you experience life is that you don't even have to be right with your answers for something useful to emerge. By simply asking the question about your own personal responsibility for good not experienced or troubles that have befallen you, you are more than likely to discover choices you have that could make some kind of improvement in your current situation.
As I have noted many times over in this Soul-Talk series, your Self-Talk would prefer to stick with the blame and complain game if for no other reason than it's easier to blame than it is to accept responsibility and begin to make new choices. For example, if you find yourself concerned about politics or the economy, ask yourself: What have you chosen to do about either? Bringing it even closer to home, how about how things are going at work or in your personal relationships?
While you may not have a perfect solution, you might at least get involved and take what actions you can. Even a micro-improvement tends to be better than no improvement at all. "Any port in a storm," "Rome wasn't built in a day," and "Perfect is the enemy of the good" are all adages pointing to this simple truth -- you have to start somewhere.
How about you? Are you someplace in your life where you can choose to start the improvement game? If something is troubling you, if you are beset by challenges, what small step can you take to put you on the path of improvement? And, need I remind you how good you have felt in the past when you have chosen to move from complaint into action? Progress always feels better than remaining stuck in the ruts of life.
So, stop spinning your wheels and start choosing to create the life you would prefer rather than bemoaning the one you accept. After all, ultimately, it is going to come down to you and the choice is always yours to make.
I would love to hear from you so please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.
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If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.
Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at www.RussellBishop.com. You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.