There once was a boy. He was a boy born of privilege but also of extremely poor health. A rich, sickly boy. Temporarily blinded as a child, a stomach condition that left him in pain most days, back pains that would persist his entire life. It being the late 1800’s, the medical profession was less than helpful.
As he grew older, his health got worse and he began to struggle with depression and thoughts of suicide. Because his father was wealthy and had influence, he was enrolled into Harvard Medical College. Willing to try anything rather than live as a suicidal invalid, he signed up for an anthropological expedition to the Amazon rainforest. He contracted small pox in the jungle and nearly died.
The young man managed to return home to a disappointed father, nearly 30 years old, still unemployed, a failure at everything he had ever attempted, with a body that betrayed him and wasn’t likely to ever get better. Despite every advantage and opportunity he had been given in life, he had failed them all. The only constants in his life seemed to be suffering and disappointment. The man fell into a deep depression and planned to take his own life.
But first he decided to try one last thing before biting on a pistol. In his diary, he decided, as an experiment, that he would spend an entire year believing that he was 100 percent responsible for everything that happened to him in his life. If, after a year of accepting complete responsibility for his lot in life and working to improve his situation, he was still dog paddling in a sea of despair, the bullet would suffice.
This experiment became the basis of the work of that young man, the father of modern psychology, William James.
So, how about an experiment?
Spend one full year—the next 365 days of your life—holding yourself responsible for everything, good or bad, that happens to you. Everything that occurs to you in your life is yours to own, no matter what.
Sure. This is harder than it sounds. We've become an entire society set out to change each others' minds with rhetoric and find blame for anything and everything we experience on the rest of the Universal Tribe. These are difficult mindsets to reverse.
My car is towed. I can either blame the City and the greedy Mayor, the assholes who make a living giving out parking tickets, the fucking tow truck guy who came by at 3 a.m. and STOLE MY CAR!
I can simply take responsibility for the tow myself. I parked there. I misread the sign. I have to pay the consequences for not parking well.
I gain 15 pounds. Everyone knows it is that the advertising people keep shoving fatty foods, laden with sugar and preservatives in my face ALL DAY LONG! That McDonald's tastes so good on purpose! And I just got married so maybe it's her fault. Or maybe I'm just naturally and genetically predisposed to be a fatass so it's the fault of my parents!
I eat more calories than I burn and can take control of that. Work out, eat less, lose the weight and feel better about myself in the process.
Now, I'll grant you the fact that it's much easier for me to engage in this experiment. I'm a white, college educated, middle-aged, straight male. In a society designed by and for the exclusive proliferation of white, college educated, middle-aged, straight males. The chances that I'm going to get raped in an alley or beaten to death by a policeman on my way home are pretty slim. I do not, however, think that it is an impossible experiment for anyone. It's really only about attempting to reframe your interactions with the world as if you are ultimately responsible for the outcomes in your day to day.
Maybe some control rules?
You are never responsible for being attacked or assaulted. Everything else, though, is yours to own. How's that?
That break up? Point that shitty blame finger at yourself and reflect on how you can be a better partner. Got laid off? Think on how you can be a more valuable employee. People judge you based on how you appear? Try looking at what you wear before jumping into victim status and control what you have control over.
The fact is, we are not responsible for everything that happens to us but we are responsible for more than we pretend. Blaming someone else (or the elusive System) is easy, frequently satisfying and often accomplishes diddly-shit. Like a Snickers Bar of Self Pity.
Interesting observation (at least it is to me): most people I can think of who are winning at the Board Game of Life practice this experiment as a way of existence. The folks who find ways to blame their parents, their bosses, their bad luck, the System, the Man, Men, Women, White People, Black People, Hispanic People, the government, the U. N., Iran, Israel, or your mamma? Generally speaking, not the real winners of the Survival of the Fittest Obstacle Course. The people who comprehend that Life is not fair and could not give two shits are the people we look up to, we rely upon, we envy.
So, how about it? How about trying this on as an experiment just to see what happens? If you read this and say to yourself "Nah. That's a goofy ass idea." Then ask yourself this: why not try the experiment? What could you possibly have to lose?