The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
–Genesis 3:12-13

So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
–Romans 14:12

It is a painful thing to look at your own trouble and know that you yourself and no one else has made it.
–Sophocles

The choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.
–Eleanor Roosevelt

Dear Munchkins,

We live in a world that seems to have mastered the blame game. For many people, their feelings and actions are always somebody else’s fault, and they go through life bitterly playing the victim card. It goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden, where Adam blamed Eve for his choice to eat from the tree, and Eve blamed the serpent for hers.

I want to encourage you to refrain from blaming your feelings and actions on others and not let others blame you for theirs. Let me explain.

Let’s say someone calls you a name at school, like loser. If that happens to you, I want you to stop, take a deep breath, and take full responsibility for how you feel about what they said and how you respond to what they said.

If they call you a loser, I want you to fully own the feelings you have, like feeling angry, hurt, or resentful. And I want you to fully own whatever actions you take, like calling them an idiot or going home and eating a dozen a half-gallon of ice cream to medicate your emotional pain. Don’t blame your feelings and actions on the person who called you a loser. How you emotionally and behaviorally respond to what they said is on you, not them.

Now, flip this around. Let’s say you call someone an idiot. Don’t let them blame you for their feelings and actions related to what you said. If someone says, “You made me mad when you called me an idiot and that’s why I called you a loser,” don’t tolerate that from people. If they say that kind of thing to you, say something like, “Look, Karen, I’m not responsible that you felt hurt and that you called me a loser, I’m just responsible for calling you an idiot. What I did was wrong, I’m sorry I did it, and I want to apologize and ask you to forgive me.”

I know all of this sounds like semantics, but it’s important to live your life putting everyone, you included, on the hook for their own feelings and actions. If we fail to do this, our relationships with others are going to be a bigger, more painful mess than they already are.

Now, because I know Pop is probably not making much sense at this point, I want to say all this again and use a made-up example to drive it home.

Let’s say you’re walking down the street and someone comes out of an alley, sticks a gun to your head, and demands your purse or wallet. You’re going to think Pop has lost his mind, which I have, but you’re responsible for how you respond to what this person did.

If you decide to give them your purse or wallet, you’re on the hook for that. I don’t want you to sit there feeling they made you do it. They didn’t. You made a very wise choice to value your life over your purse or wallet, and I want you to own that. That way, you don’t turn into a bitter, resentful victim about what they did.

At the same time, I want you to put them on the hook for sticking a gun to your head and taking the purse or wallet you offered them. Even if you were walking in a crime-infested area of town (not a wise choice), you’re not to blame if someone robs you. They are.

So, here’s the way I want this situation to play out in your feelings and actions: “I made a choice to walk down that particular street. That’s on me. They made a choice to stick a gun to my head and demand my purse or wallet. That’s on them. I, wisely, made a choice to give them my purse/wallet because my life is far more important. That’s on me. They made a choice to take my purse or wallet and run away with it. That’s on them. I made a choice to go to the nearest police station to tell them what happened, give them a description of the perpetrator, and ask them to do what they can do about it. That’s on me. If they find this guy, I’m going to make a further choice to have him prosecuted to the full extent of the law so that he spends time behind bars. That’s on me. If he ends up spending time behind bars, that’s on him. I’m also going to make a choice to have my credit cards canceled so this guy can’t use them to buy a big screen t.v. or book a trip to Barbados. That’s on me.”

Munchkins, you may think Pop is making much ado about nothing here, but, trust me, I’m not. If you dedicate the rest of your life to taking responsibility for your feelings and actions and put others on the hook for theirs, you will be a much healthier individual, you will problem-solve difficult situations more effectively, and you will be less prone to victimhood and the bitterness and resentment that go along with it.

Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. I’m not saying you shouldn’t feel angry or hurt when others mistreat you. Those are perfectly normal and understandable feelings for you to have when people act badly. Just make sure you take total responsibility for your feelings and the actions that flow out of them, hold others responsible for the same, and spend the rest of your life free from toxic victimhood.

Be a victor over the slings and arrows of life that come your way, not a victim.

Love,
Pop