Tag Archives: interdependence

more on guilt and responsibility

i’d like to thank alex for his reply to my last post about guilt and for initiating an interesting discussion.

alex asks, “why she has to feel sad or bad if joe forgets their wedding anniversary? she has to be confident and sure enough to know that he cares about their marriage even if he has a loss of memory or whatever.”

here are my thoughts on this.

of course this was just an example.

i don’t think she “has to” anything. but feeling hurt when a husband forgets an anniversary is pretty common and understandable (at least here in north america – to some degree this is a cultural thing).

now if they have both agreed that remembering such dates are not important, it would be a different situation.

alex also says, “guilt is more related to self-image and illusions regarding that than to actual facts or acts related to others. is the intention that counts. if you had no intentions of hurting someone but someone does, that does not necessarily imply that you commit a wrongdoing.”

i think the word “necessarily” is important here.

guilt can be related to self-image and illusions but it doesn’t have to. again, it’s useful to separate out responsibility for from the feelings about a particular event.

if jill causes an accident while driving a car, her intentions may be very good but she might still hurt someone. that’s her responsibility, and ideally her actions following that will be driven by compassion and a resolve to repair the harm she has caused.

however, if she lays awake at night for the next two weeks beating herself up over what has happened (i.e. “feels guilty”), nobody is served except that perhaps the desire to avoid feeling like this will cause her to drive more carefully.

alex then points out, “what if the other person is too susceptible and has low self esteem? do you have to charge with that on your back so that person feels better? i don’t see that as a way of helping others to grow emotionally.”

i talked a bit about that in a previous series of posts (“you made me do it“). again, it helps to separate things out – this time, what your feelings and actions are and what the other person’s feelings and actions are.

you may or may not have a lot of impact on what another person feels and does but you have zero control over it. the only person you have any semblance of control over is yourself.

that means that

a) you are proportionately responsible for your actions’ impact on others. every action has consequences. how these consequences play out is out of your hands. but you need to be aware of and prepared for the fact that there will be consequences.
b) you are wholly responsible for how your actions impact on yourself.
c) you are wholly responsible for your own feelings.

thus, to come back to joe who forgot the wedding anniversary (an event that we’ll assume he and his wife agreed would be important in their relationship), he is proportionately responsible for the impact this has on his wife. how she reacts to that is up to her. but he can’t say, “what, you’re upset? that’s not my problem.”

what that proportion looks like depends in part on their relationship. if, say, she is grumpy for an evening, that’s something that he might want to help alleviate. if she can’t stop talking about it for the next month, then that’s clearly out of proportion, and there is no reason for him to feel responsible for such obsessive behaviour. (although if she does act like that, i would wonder what else is or isn’t going on in that relationship!)

as i discussed in another post, as children, we are dependent, as teenagers we discover independence and as adults, we need to negotiate interdependence. anything we do and say has consequences, has impact, and it falls on us to figure out which part of the consequences we are responsible for. but spending lots of time feeling guilty probably won’t help much.

blog action day: interdependence with the environment

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day today is blog action day, a day on which bloggers worldwide post on topics concerning the environment.

what is “the environment”?

here is a merriam-webster definition

  1. the circumstances, objects or conditions by which one is surrounded;
  2. the complex of climatic, edaphic and biotic factors that act upon an organism or an ecological community and ultimately determine its form and survival;
  3. the aggregate of social and cultural conditions that influence the life of an individual or community.

what do you notice?

“one is surrounded”
“factors that act upon”
“determine form and survival”
“influence”

it’s written in “us vs. them” language, it’s an “i vs. the other” definition. it’s also a definition that does not take into account how we act upon the environment.

this is at least partly what has brought us to the state where we are today, from species extinction, to rapid melting of ice in the arctic and antarctic, to violent meteorological changes.

i wonder whether humanity as a whole is going through the same developmental stages that individuals go through.

roughly, as small children, we are wholly dependent on our parents – our familial environment.

as we grow older and especially as teenagers, our developmental task is to assert our independence. that’s when “i vs. the other” is of tremendous importance.

we make sure everyone can see how different we are from our parents and other elders, and we also challenge the larger environment. on a societal level, for some it’s the only time of political activism. we even test and try the natural environment. (i remember a year of walking barefoot even in the coldest weather. just because it was cool and i could. never mind the bladder infections.)

following that phase, if we’re lucky (or determined, or get pushed), we mature into a sense of interdependence.

it looks like we’re still behaving like teenagers, and that patiently waiting until we mature into interdependence probably won’t work out. circumstances are pushing us to mature faster than we’d like to, and if we’re not determined to respond to that push, we may not be able to see humanity’s children and grandchildren grow.

paradoxically enough, even accelerated growth needs to be mostly organic and wants elements of gentleness and patience.

and since we’re all part of this big sea of humanity, it always comes down to individual action.

what action are you willing, able and happy to do today, organically and in all gentleness, to show your interdependence with the environment?

(this post was mentioned in the best of me symphony