Fault vs. Responsibility


One of the hardest tasks of reaching “emotional adulthood” is learning to separate fault from responsibility.  This is partly due to definitions that exist, which use the two words interchangeably.  In the context of taking ownership of your life, however, these are two very different things.  Fault implies blame- the cause of an effect.  But responsibility can be an empowering gift that allows us to regain control of a circumstance-even when it’s not something we wanted or asked for.  Responsibility involves being accountable for what is within our power/control.  And of course that’s limited to just three things:  Our thoughts, feelings and actions.


Let’s start “easy”

If I damage a parked car with my grocery cart, I am at fault.  And the law says I am responsible for the damages.  If I choose to become a parent, I am legally responsible for the care of my children until they turn 18.  Obvious, right?  In all of the above circumstances, I am in control of my own actions.  This makes “accepting” the responsibility pretty easy.  But what about when the choice is not ours?  When we are not at fault.  When the circumstance was completely out of our control and never “should have” happened?


Not so “easy”

If my job is eliminated my without notice and I have bills to pay, the loss of income is not my fault, but it is my responsibility.  If a tree falls on my neighbor’s roof during a storm, it is not my fault, but I’m responsible for the damages.  If my boss sexually harasses me at work, this is not my fault.  But responding to it is my responsibility. 


The problem with making someone else the villain is that

it always leaves you the victim.

And victims are stripped of all their power.

Some people balk at this idea.  They respond with anger and want to know why they should have to be responsible for someone else’s choices.  The reality is that not everything can be accounted for.  (Who do we hold accountable for tornadoes and illness?)  Another hard truth is that those who victimize don’t care about their victims and likely won’t ever.  So if they do not care or hold the ability to help us become “unstuck”, what then? Are we just at the mercy of whatever happens to us?

Only you have the ability to control what you choose how to react to your circumstances.  In his autobiography, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl tells his story of surviving  four concentration camps during the Holocaust, where his brother, parents, wife and unborn baby were all murdered.  Frankl taught that the only way to avoid suffering in response to circumstances which are out of our control, is by being responsible.

If a man of such suffering is able to say this with confidence and from experience, I believe it is possible for us to do the same.  While challenging in the moment, we can all choose our response.  I would rather hold responsibility and control than to remain “stuck” in a place where I feel

powerless and at the mercy of my circumstance. This choice opens me up to think new thoughts that I was closed off to at the time of victimization or hurt. it allows me to respond from a place of intentionality rather than reactivity. It allows me to think and act in a way that aligns with my morals and values and who I am called to be. I still get it wrong plenty. That’s part of the human experience too. But we have the responsibility to keep on trying.

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