THINK:You are responsible for everything

Imagine the horrific situation of waking up one morning to find that a stranger had abandoned an infant on your front doorstep. You would not be culpable, you would not be to blame, for a stranger having left the infant on your doorstep. You would, however, be responsible for what you do in a situation you neither chose nor created. (see this article by Mark Manson here.)

We are often handed realities or circumstances which we did not choose, for which we are not at fault. But we are still responsible for what we do in those circumstances. Will I ignore the abandoned child on my doorstep?  Or will I respond appropriately? 

Upping the ante a bit more: with regard to ongoing difficult realities in our life, it's crucial to ask ourselves "how am I complicit in this?" (See Jerry Colonna, Reboot.) The point here is not (falsely, unhelpfully) to assign blame to ourselves or beat ourselves up with shame. (Though of course it is necessary to ask ourselves whether we did or did not contribute to the initial mess.) Instead, the idea here is to hold two things simultaneously: one, the notion that others may be at fault, even grave fault, for one's difficulties or victimization; and two, simultaneously, to hold onto our own agency, our ability to choose a response. To be response-able.It's a question of agency: to own what ability or power one has in any given situation. To be able to see nothing but the wrongs of others is to "play the victim," is to reduce my role merely to victim-without-agency. But to claim responsibility in a given, even horrific, situation, is to refuse to reduce myself merely to the victim.  I am response-able. Or at least I want to become a person who is response-able in even the most horrific of circumstances. This was one of the insights of Victor Frankl's classic Man's Search for Meaningrecounting his experience in the Nazi concentration camps: even in the midst of true horror, human maturation requires that we claim our response-ability, to choose the meaning we will give to our experience. 

DO:Choose your actions and attitudes.

Choose some set of circumstances that's annoyed you for a while. (Perhaps don't start with the most troubling or difficult aspect of your life, especially if this is a new exercise for you.) Try one or both of the two approaches above:  ask yourself, "how am I complicit in this?" and "what other actions or attitudes am I able to choose in response to this situation?"

Longer term, the goal is to expand, and then choose what we do within, that slight moment between stimulus and reaction:  rather than unthinkingly react, rather than unthinkingly move from stimulus to unconsidered action, we are response-able, able to choose a response. (This is not to overlook that human and moral formation does, at its best, form us to be able to unthinkingly act when the circumstances require it: think of the bravery and skill of first responders, or a parent's capacity to keep a child from harm. This is why prudence, for example, typically teaches us that we should not rush to act, except in those cases we should.)

If you find that the slight moment between stimulus and reaction is so small that you are unable to choose some other response; or you find that the stimulus immediately throws you into obsessive reactionary ruminations, you might consider mindfulness meditation. This is a way of cultivating the capacity to observe your thoughts without being pushed around into reacting by your own thinking. This is a super-power. More on that later.

  • Take a listen to our recent interview with "MacArthur Genius Grant" Angela Duckworth, on her celebrated work on "grit." She exhibits a fascinating conversation about perseverance in life pursuits. Highly practical, and fascinating. You learn why she was able to predict who would drop out of West Point much better than the exams that West Point had developed...
Listen Here
Unabridged Episode

  • I caught "Oppenheimer" at the theaters with a couple of friends its opening weekend: it's a film I'll be thinking about for a long while, full of moral ambiguity, an acknowledgement of the horrors of war, a grappling with the machinations of power and institutions of the state.
  • I hope that you'll mark your calendars to join us live this fall: for two live shows here in Nashville: 
    • September 21, honoring Fred D. Gray, one of the most important attorneys in United States history, first attorney for Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, who went on to play a crucial role in the unfolding of the Civil Rights movement. Be notified when tickets go onsale by clicking here.
    • Then, November 19, 2023, our big end of year Thanksgiving show with an exciting twist:  this year we take a break from the Ryman and take the stage at the Schermerhorn Symphony Hall.  Tickets and offers will be forthcoming via email, or set a reminder to be notified when tickets go on sale by clicking here.
  • Last, we have about eight tickets left for our live podcast taping with NASA scientist and head of the Hubble telescope project, Dr. Jennifer Wiseman, August 10 at the Sudekum Planetarium. Tickets available here.
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Peace to you, friend.Best,


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