On the Corner

Accepting responsibility

by Robert Docter, Editor-In-Chief – 

I got rid of 2005 the other day.

I’m speaking, of course, of the large calendar on the door of our refrigerator that administers the affairs of the entire family. All the notations of birthdays, duly noted for everyone’s awareness by the one to be celebrated, have disappeared. Important meetings and appointments have departed from view. Important information—phone numbers, names and places, directions to distant points are all abandoned.

I started to throw it away. And then I couldn’t. I looked at it and realized that it contained considerable family history. I said to myself: “Somebody should make a journal of all the important dates and events of last year.” And then I left it hanging on its hook. I guess I hoped that a braver soul would throw it away.

And then, I welcomed 2006 to the family. I hung it on top of 2005.

I didn’t hear any fanfares or drum rolls to celebrate the momentous occasion. No choirs sang forth with anthems of praise. Nobody raised a flag. No one joined me with a salute. Actually, it was kind of a lonely experience. I just saw the new calendar laying there and decided it was time to start using it. So 2005 got covered up with the shiny, crisp newness that 2006 brings.

I looked at the empty spaces as I turned the page. No appointments noted although there are several I hope I remember. I rifled the pages and found what I expected—only empty boxes begging to be filled with important information.

2006 waited for me.

What would I do with it? The question hit me hard. That new calendar, fresh and clean, reminded me that I had certain responsibilities—that, barring serious illness or accident, I determined my own destiny. What would I do with 2006?

I started with some general questions and moved on to ruminating on the general way I perceived me.

What are my expectations for me? What are my hopes and dreams? What unfinished projects would I like to see completed? What changes in me would I like to achieve—changes in my relationships with others, including God—in my attention to responsibilities—in my significant ability to procrastinate?

I expect myself to be responsible. I spent a little time assessing myself in relation to my notion of responsibility. I suspect some of these thoughts came out as facts when, in truth, they only indicate the direction I want the trend line of my growth to take. But, anyway, here goes.

I accept the reality that I choose the direction of my life. I can’t assign this to anyone else. If I do dumb things I have no one to blame but me. I determine what feelings dominate my behavior. I choose my thoughts. I determine the direction of my life. I design the expectations that fashion my behavior. I know God has a role in this, but unless I assume personal responsibility for my own feelings, thoughts and actions God becomes only a cop out.

I’m an optimist. Optimists believe that, for the most part, they have internal control. Pessimists believe they are controlled externally. They become excessively dependent on the wishes, wants and will of others.

I enjoy recognition and approval from others. But it’s not something I need. Needing that recognition indicates I’m unable to assess my own performance, and that I have given responsibility for that assessment to someone else. I know when I have done a pitiful job on something. I try to profit from the experience. It’s not a fun exercise. But it is important.

I expect to fulfill each statement above and work to guarantee its true reality. Lord knows, I’m not there yet. I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on several items I want to work on this year. Maybe my quest of responsibility makes me over-responsible. For instance, sometimes I want so badly to help someone change that I assume responsibility for changing. Not a valid therapeutic intervention.

Sometimes, in my risk taking, I fail to fully assess the consequences of certain decisions and behaviors and put others at risk in the process.

Sometimes, my procrastination leads to low-quality output. For instance, why is this column the last article on the proof page of this issue of the paper?

Oh well—awareness can motivate change.

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