Friday, December 14, 2012

Everything is NOT my fault (or yours, either)

Photo credit: jetheriot (Flickr)

Derek Sivers was the founder of CD Baby, a site which has been extremely helpful for musicians, allowing them to bring their music to the public directly without the middleman record companies taking their thick slice of the pie. One of those musicians is Two Dogs. We have good reasons to thank Sivers.

One of those reasons is not this recent blog post. Sivers tells us that he was going to tell us how badly his former employees cheated him in his book, Anything You Want. These naughty employees were a mercenary, entitled bunch of turd blossoms.

And then, Sivers realized – hey, it was his fault for letting his company get so out of hand in the first place. After all, he was the president.

That may be all well and good (it is important as a president to keep an eye on company culture), but Sivers takes it a bit further.

We should always blame ourselves for everything that happens in our lives.

Here’s what Sivers has to say about always blaming yourself:

This is way better than forgiving. When you forgive, you’re still playing the victim, and they’re still wrong, but you’re charitably pardoning their horrible deeds.

But to decide it’s your fault feels amazing! Now you weren’t wronged. They were just playing their part in the situation you created. [italics mine]. They’re just delivering the punch-line to the joke you set up.

“The situation you created.” As if you were that powerful.

I have no idea if Sivers actually believes what he says, or is just creating click-bait. It doesn’t matter to me either way – I know that deciding to take personal blame for everything that happens to you is not a prescription for happiness. More people over-blame themselves than under-blame. It’s not a healthy situation, and articles like these need the corrective of critical thinking, like dirty windows need an astringent cleanser.

I prefer taking responsibility only for what you do and letting other people do the same. If someone is rude to me, I do not think “I could have lightened their mood beforehand,” as Sivers says I should. I ignore it, refuse to let it tarnish my self-worth, and if I think of rude people at all, it’s pity that they don’t have more emotional control. (And there’s no guarantee that I could have lightened their mood in any event.)

Even when you take responsibility for what you do, you don’t always have control over the outcome. How many times have we taken actions which we sincerely believed would have good outcomes, only to see them go awry? How many years have we spent learning the “rules” of finding a job, behaving on a date, or staying married, and by the time we are actually in those situations, the “rules” have changed?

Is that really our fault?

Remember the classic Star Trek episode “The Doomsday Machine”? Commodore Matthew Decker beamed his Constellation crew to a planet in order to protect them from the title object. Instead, the Doomsday Machine destroyed that very planet. A guilt-stricken Decker vowed to destroy the Doomsday Machine at any cost.

If this had happened to me, I would feel guilty, too.

But is the loss of the crew Decker’s fault?

Or did he do what he thought was best (where else could he beam his crew to?), and it just went tragically wrong?

As the bumper sticker (almost) says, stuff happens. We can anticipate and plan for such stuff, but it’s still not under our complete control. We can’t always be superheroes in the stories of our lives, no matter what Sivers says:

Now you’re like a new superhero, just discovering your strength. Now you’re the powerful person that made things happen, made a mistake, and can learn from it.

No. Real human beings are just not that powerful. It’s hubris to think so.

Nobody wins the blame game – no matter where the finger is pointing.

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