I am fed up with the media’s obsessive coverage of disasters and tragedies almost exclusively in a context of blame (and occasionally credit) for whatever it is that they are covering. We’ve been subjected to a week of ‘windbagging’ about who is responsible for the shootings at VA Tech. The killer’s justification was, “You made me do it.” He took no responsibility for his actions: he acted irresponsibly. We know the guy was nuts and, no doubt, officials will review what happened in depth to hopefully prevent things like this from happening again. But the endless coverage is all about who is at fault, who should be fired, who we should point the finger at. No doubt the lawyers of the victims’ families are already drafting lawsuits for every institution or ‘deep pockets’ target in sight.
The blame game is disgusting. Bad things happen. We can learn from them. We can take responsibility for them. And then we can move on.
I think the blame game happens for two reasons:
1. We have a mistaken idea of responsibility and
2. We blame others so as to avoid acknowledging our own responsibility in the matter.
The word responsibility means ‘response-ability’. It distinguishes our relationship to the circumstances. It is not about who caused the circumstances. I have a choice whether I am going to be responsible for what happens in my life (even for things that happen 3,000 miles away) that I had nothing to do with OR whether I am going to point my finger at others and therefore get myself off the hook and avoid looking at what I can do now, given what happened.
We are victims of anything we are not responsible for. If we’re responsible for something, then we have a choice to act or not act. If we aren’t responsible, then our ONLY CHOICE is to react in one way or another to what is happening. In doing so, we participate in its persistence.
This means we never have to feel powerless when horrible things happen. Responsibility is a declaration, a state of being, a relationship to the world and to what is happening in it. We can be responsible for anything we say we are responsible for and mean it. When we declare our responsibility we can be whole and empowered in the face of seemingly intractable problems—hunger, poverty, AIDS, global warming, Hurricane Katrina come to mind—and personal tragedies such as those faced by the Virginia Tech victims’ relatives and friends. This principle has been proven valid in countless situations where victims of overt discrimination come to realize that they must accept responsibility for the fact of discrimination before there is any possibility of changing it.
I am responsible for what happened at VA Tech, just as I am responsible for terrorism, and a long list of horrible facts of life in our modern world. I will leave it to history to judge whether anything I said or did in my life made any difference, but I will keep working to resolve these kinds of issues until the day I die. I don’t think I am a Don Quixote tilting with windmills. I think I’m a human being who is unwilling to be a victim of anything or succumb to the relentless pressure and breakdowns of our times. I am someone who is an idealist by choice, but who also believes that the ideal of personal responsibility is a baseline, a starting point for all of us who wish to be empowered in any aspect of our lives.