We Have to Talk About Taking Responsibility (ugh) and Cultivating Authentic Power (yay)
If there’s a less sexy topic than take responsibility, I believe I’d know about it. Though it is typically met with all manner of resistance, we will anyway explore today how taking responsibility (ugh) actually cultivates authentic power (yay), personally and politically. And we’ll take a peek at the difference between power and force (all while saving how this relates to the experiences of groups, organizations, parties and the like for another day).
First, here’s evidence — via article titles from a quick, online “self-empowerment” search — that everyday people want to feel empowered:
“The 3 Core Fundamentals of Self-Empowerment”
“10 Ways to Achieve Self-Empowerment”
“7 Ways to Achieve Self-Empowerment”
“What Is Self-Empowerment?”
“3 Ways to Empower Yourself”
“17 Ways to Empower Yourself”
“14 Daily Affirmations for Confidence & Self-Empowerment”
“3 Reasons Why Self-Empowerment is Important”
“8 Little Things You Can Do to Empower Yourself”
“8 Steps to Personal Empowerment”
Next, care to come out on a limb with me to say that everyone in politics wants power, too? Woot woot! In that case here’s what we know so far: everyone wants power.
Moving along, would you agree that take responsibility is a value espoused throughout American culture? Excellent!
So…everyone wants power and everyone knows they are supposed to take responsibility. That was easy. Yet so much of what ails us is an unwillingness to take responsibility. Another headline smattering:
“Some Donald Trump supporters charged with storming the U.S. Capitol are employing a long-shot defense strategy: blaming the former president”
“Trump Blames CDC and Obama for His Mistakes Over COVID-19”
“More Republicans blame Biden for Capitol riot than fault Trump”
“Democrats Blame President Trump for Their Own Military Occupation of D.C.”
“Rep. Kevin McCarthy blames Republican loss of House majority on GOP healthcare bill”
“Pelosi blames the nail salon for controversy, accuses them of a ‘setup’”
“Politicians suggest video games are to blame for the El Paso shooting. It’s an old claim that’s not backed by research.”
And just because I thought it was an interesting find, check these search results:
We Americans live in a culture of blame (see also: litigious society) that pays lip service to taking responsibility so we can be forgiven for being confused. Let’s then, take two examples of this dynamic for now: when it’s us and when it’s an elected official.
We Americans live in a culture of blame that pays lip service to taking responsibility so we can be forgiven for being confused.
Say you make me a promise, I count on it, I take actions based upon it, and you renege. I’m right, you’re wrong, and I’m fucked over. Hard. If, as, and when I harp on you, complain about you, cajole you, try to get you to undo the damage, I am thoroughly disempowered. My focus is entirely on you and I’m at your mercy waiting for what, if anything, you may or may not decide to do or undo. Not good conscious practice.
When I take responsibility — not for your asshole move because that’s you, all you — I take responsibility for having been fucked over and for what I do about it. I delve a bit and find that I have an old belief that I can’t trust anyone. Yikes. That old belief is still creating in my reality. Obviously. It’s why what happened, happened. My story changes, then, from anything about you to everything about me and I am immediately empowered. It’s my belief and now that I see it, I can change it. I do that. I’m in charge. I decide. I’m responsible. Excising that belief is empowering. Replacing it with knowing I can always trust people is empowering. New confidence in my willingness to trust is empowering. Thanking you for being the asshole who inspired me to see a part of my Self that needed adjustment is fucking empowering. Done! Peter Parker of Spider-Man fame says that with great power comes great responsibility. The corollary is also true.
For individual politicians, no different. Say I’m a three-term governor with my eye on a fourth who refuses to take responsibility for sexual harassment allegations when I know that I have, without question, sexually harassed. I’m immediately disempowered and, no, I will not understand or admit to that. I will, however, act to compensate for it by investing vast amounts of my time and energy in creating a sense of power. I will say and do aggressive things. I will bully. I will look tough. I will not back down. I will not apologize unless I absolutely have to and, then, for sure, it will not satisfy anyone. I will say and believe that I am exerting power (new consciousness) but, in fact, it’s just force (old consciousness) — a very different thing.1
If I got some consciousness training from, say, the guy who writes this newsletter, I would do something like announce a 30-day deep dive into my behavior and its ramifications. I would consult every expert and listen to every accuser. I would become the world’s leading authority on sexual harassment inflicted by men in power on women in and out of their ranks. On the 30th day I’d call a press conference. I would apologize masterfully and take responsibility with aplomb. I would relate personal stories demonstrating my unassailable grasp of the issue. I would announce sweeping executive governmental reforms and propose legislation in line with the needs and desires of activists, employees, and victims. Then I’d take journalists’ questions until there were no more questions to take.
Easy, authentic power would organically emanate and ooze from me. My renewal would show on my face, my reelection campaign would be earnest, and if I lost I’d take it in stride.
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