“The problem of distinguishing what we are and what we are not responsible for in this life is one of the greatest problems of human existence.” – Dr. Scott Peck
We were at a community swimming pool the other day when we walked by a grown-up forcefully saying to a boy who looked about 12 years-old, “Stop talking. All I hear from you is blaming others, saying how they made you do what you do instead of taking responsibility. Stop talking.”
It was easy to have great sympathy for both of them. The grown-up who also had 3 other children younger than the boy with her and the boy who looked stunned to have a grown-up yelling in his face.
Thinking about it, it reminds me of the quote for this post, a great line from psychiatrist and author, Dr. Scott Peck, “The problem of distinguishing what we are and what we are not responsible for in this life is one of the greatest problems of human existence.”
We all personalize or project. When we personalize, we think that everything happens has to do with us. If the boy at the swimming pool personalized, perhaps he thought that the grown-up’s mood was his fault. And when we project, we take our feelings and color everything around us. In the swimming pool scenario, the grown-up could have been tired and frustrated after the effort to get four children dried off and changed after swimming so she projected that frustration onto the boy.
Dr. Peck wrote that we all exist on a continuum between neurotic and character disordered. When we are neurotic, as I tend to be, we take too much responsibility for things and when we are character disordered, we take too little. We see it all through our lens and then it’s a struggle to find a way to just own our part.
It’s a hard thing to teach to my kids since I’m still working it out myself. But I’ve been practicing just being direct – not embellishing either why it happened or owning too much or the scenario. When I step on the cat’s paw when she is winding her way around my ankles as I feed her, I try to model just saying “I’m sorry I stepped on your paw” instead of “I’m so sorry, it’s all my fault” or “you made me do it, you shouldn’t have been underfoot.”
At the swimming pool, I walked by the intense scene and then went out the double doors just past them. I’ll never know if the boy was able to say, “I’m sorry I did that” and the woman to say, “I’m sorry I took my frustration out on you” but I hope so.