Tag Archives: responsibility

taking responsibility: constance barnes and the braidwood enquiry

i was going to offer you another poem of sarah’s in this post but there’s something i need to say before we move on to that.

the braidwood enquiry into robert dziekanski’s death, the polish immigrant who was tasered at the vancouver airport in the fall of 2007.

and constance barnes.

right from the very beginning, the RCMP – the royal mounted canadian police – lied presented their own version of the truth. through their teeth, fancy red hats and polished black boots. the latest in their sometimes daily refusal to take any responsibility whatsoever is to deny the existence of an email that details how they decided to use a taser on their way to the airport.

now let’s talk about constance barnes.

constance barnes is a vancouver parks board commissioner, single mother of two children, employed at dr sun yat sen gardens – and she screwed up. she drank, she fell asleep at the wheel, and then ploughed into a house.

and then she apologized.

see the difference?

people are complaining that she didn’t apologize at the right time, that she didn’t use the right words to describe that she’s going to AA, that what she did was not a “mistake” but a … well, i don’t know what – etc., etc. who cares!

she took responsibility, and she apologized.

what a concept.

i don’t have a clue what’s going on behind closed doors at the RCMP. is there something even bigger they’re hiding? are they too steeped in a culture of secrecy that they can’t see what they’re doing? is there a boss somewhere who can’t handle looking at the truth? are they getting paid big bucks by taser? who knows.

what i DO know is that responsibility liberates. responsibility is for mature, grown-up people who know that there are no gods among humans, that we’re not perfect, and that we make mistakes. awful, horrendous mistakes sometimes. and that the way to show you’re a woman or a man is to stand as tall as possible, warts and all and to say, “YES, i did this. what can i do to make it better?”

it liberates because after you take responsibility, you don’t have to cower beneath fear, shame and guilt.

happiness in the new year

happy childrenhappy new year to all! what more should i say? of course i want you all to be happy. but what does that mean? what does happiness mean? so many different things to different people. “contentment with one’s situation,” i read somewhere today, “is the greatest happiness one can have.” definitely, that is one great happiness. one among many – and a happiness that may seem meaningless to some.

since there seem to be so many ideas around happiness, i thought i’d see what some of our readers say about it. here you have it:

  • rivka¬† mentions ayn rand’s question of whether an individual has a right to happiness.
  • leprechaun makes a connection between happiness and luck
  • christa from giggle on says we’re responsible for our own happiness; similarly, dan says happiness is a choice.
  • donna finds joy and happiness difficult to come by after spending years in a cult.
  • marja talks about the happiness that washed over her after her garden party that launched her latest book, a firm place to stand, about her experience supporting others and being supported in mental illness (neat tidbit – i was in the middle of writing this sentence when tina, who had originally introduced me to marja, phoned me up out of the blue)
  • “joy and purpose is found in living a life looking outward and upward; not inward” says meri ellen
  • in the anorexia forum, supportive messages:
  • “your body needs food! you are very underweight and your body is probably screaming for nourishment! i know it is soooo hard to eat but you have to. you need more than what you are consuming right now. you want to gain your life back. you want to be healthy and happy! anorexia takes both health and happiness away and you do not want that. you want to enjoy life and live it to the fullest :)”
  • “health and happiness is the most important thing in life- not what you look like.”
  • the same person talks about overcoming the voice of anorexia, eating a snack, and the happiness that brought being proud of herself for that
  • andrew wonders whether there is a connection between income levels and health
  • “happiness happens when you’re not worrying about it.” says hibs
  • chelle feels she’s found the secret to happiness: live in the moment.; let go of all your grudges; don’t be the judge; accept what happens as a bigger plan in life; want less; help others
  • chollie feels that happiness starts with humility
  • snow thinks that happiness is elusive, and that people often fake being happy
  • and lastly, i just got a message from a friend who said, “i’m so happy i’m not starting a new diet today!”


quite the grab-bag. what’s your take on happiness?

image by carf

guilt, cheney and guantanamo bay

junebugkitty, one of my stumbleupon friends, had some interesting comments on the topic of guilt that we started discussing here a few days ago.

he mentioned the famous milgram experiment, where subjects in a psychological experiment were required to administer electrical shocks to their fellows when told so by an authority. over 50% followed those instructions, even when informed that the shocks could be lethal. (a re-enactment of this was staged recently, with the same results).

he then says,

this all leads to the conclusion that the world is headed by a small amount of people that are emotionally different, and don’t have that guilt factor, and aren’t ashamed of what they do, so they have the physical capabilities of committing atrocious acts to protect their image.

the nerve it takes to order people to be tortured, to know that one is responsible indirectly for the deaths of hundreds of thousands cannot be ignored by a lot of people, yet the public still votes in wars, the government keeps guantanamo going, the torturing of people ruins somebody, that’s where post traumatic stress comes in.

but why? how is humanity able to commit acts such as this? i do not understand what makes those people different from me, and it scares me to think that i would do the same as they if presented with the opportunity. not because i am evil, or different from others, but just because the military uses basic instincts to teach to kill, fight, and not to act before you think …

how do they do it? and how do they get into the positions they are in, once fighting? the urge to kill is stronger than the urge to save.

i’m definitely confused on the concept of war and the events that take place there, and what inside a person makes them act like that. do you know what it is?

i don’t know if anyone knows for sure – but let’s think about this for a moment.

nancy defines guilt as an “internal sense of culpability, being responsible for the impact my actions have if they impact others injuriously.”

others associate guilt with shame and/or regret; others yet with remorse.

in the re-enactment of the milgram experiment, those who administered the shocks showed signs that they felt the injurious impact their actions had on others. that did not prevent the majority of them from acting on it and breaking off the experiment.

similarly, shame, regret and remorse are feelings, and usually feelings that are played very close to the chest.

the question is, is guilt, in these situations, a motivator  for action? or could one break off the experiment without feeling guilty?

one scenario might be where a person says right from the beginning that they will not hurt a person at all, or that they will only go so far with hurting a person, and then follows through on it. then the conviction takes the place of the guilt (and is probably much more motivating).

more likely, however, is a situation where a person slowly starts to feel uncomfortable until guilt and/or remorse get so high that they cannot take it anymore, and then they stop.

when i was watching the re-enactment video, i was also wondering what might be happening with the subjects after the experiment. were they lying awake at night wandering, “how could i have gone so far?” thoughts of remorse and regret. the same as guilt?

what junebugkitty seems to be wondering about are people who apparently do not experience such uncomfortable tension that they break off whatever injurious activities they are engaged in.

is it because the external pressure of authority is greater than the internal pressure of guilt?

is it because they find themselves in a physical or cultural environment similar to the one in the milgram experiment, where harming another is expected and sanctioned? (i.e. they are pressured by a faceless and nameless authority)

is it because they are inured to guilt?

the latter question could lead us back to what some of the commenters on this series of guilt talked about: guilt as manipulation. if, just for the sake of argument, dick cheney was brought up in an environment where he was constantly “guilted”, he has a number of choices. for example, he could

  • be spooked by guilt wherever he goes, never taking risks, always afraid of the guilt monster.
  • become hyper responsible.
  • deal with it in therapy or other self-reflective, self-changing processes.
  • become immune to the discomfort of guilt and simply disregard it.

if we have a number of people at the helm who have chosen to disregard guilt, who command an army of people who do not have the energy/will/courage to react to guilt, then it’s easy to imagine how we can have a nation that is not 100% up in arms against what’s happening in guantanamo.

(this post was mentioned in the carnival of political punditry)

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.