One of the things I enjoy most about the work I do is the ability to exercise creative freedom when attempting to describe various leadership concepts to students. For example, last week, instead of simply sharing the dictionary definition for the word empower, I asked students to rearrange the first two letters of the word, which uncovered an entirely new meaning: ME Power.
Below is an open letter I wrote to pre-teens and teens. My goal is to change their lens with regard to a word that is often misused, or even misunderstood.
I’m sure you’ve heard the word “responsibility” a million times. In fact, you may have been reprimanded by a parent or teacher for making an irresponsible choice. Or maybe you’ve heard someone refer to another individual as either responsible or irresponsible in nature. Regardless of the context, it seems that this word is often used as a blanket statement implying that someone is either doing the right or the wrong thing. Unfortunately, it’s frequently used to point out the wrong choice. Take for example the following statements.
Was that the responsible thing to do?
Why aren’t you being responsible?
You need to be more responsible.
I guess I can’t trust you because you aren’t acting responsibly.
If you were the recipient of any of these statements, would you feel empowered to act more responsibly? Probably not! You might be too busy beating yourself up for failing to meet someone else’s expectations (i.e. teacher, parent, coach, etc…).
As drivers in your lives, you don’t have to wait for others to tell you whether or not you are demonstrating this life skill. It’s more important for you to grow from the inside out, which means that you are choosing to be responsible, not just because others have told you to do so. The only way to accomplish this is to establish a definition for responsibility that supports the notion of inside out change. So, here it is.
Responsibility = your ability to respond
If you break this word down into its root word and suffix, you end up with response + ability, thus the reason for the above definition. While this may appear quite simple in terms of its relatively few words, the tremendous power that it holds, if fully understood, can completely change your life.
At this point, some of you might be asking, “Okay, this definition makes sense, but what am I responding to?” Herein lies the enormity of the power I mentioned before; you are responding to life’s circumstances. Jack Canfield, co-author of the tremendously successful Chicken Soup for the Soul series, often says that life is just out there “lifing”. While it’s true that all of us live very different lives, it’s safe to say that the circumstances (or “lifing”) we experience, good or bad, are quite similar. Furthermore, it’s important to note that the majority of these circumstances are out of our control. Take for example the weather. While meteorologists can use the most technologically advanced tools to make fairly accurate predictions, the weather itself is ultimately beyond their control. The same is true for our lives. As much as we try to control or predict the kind of weather we encounter, it remains beyond our control. In fact, the only thing we completely control is our response to the weather.
Let’s go back to our new definition of responsibility for a moment. If responsibility simply means our ability to respond to life’s weather, then it would only make sense to exercise effective responses, right? In other words, to respond to life in a way that creates positive results. For example, if I fail my test (bad weather), then an effective response would be to learn from the mistakes and carry forth this learning (positive result).
Here are a few other examples…
Weather – Your parents ask you to finish up your chores around the house.
Ineffective Response – Why do I have to do these stupid chores?
Effective Response – I’ll get them done quickly so I can enjoy my time later.
Weather – You are cut from the baseball (or softball) team, but you believe you should’ve made it.
Ineffective Response – That coach doesn’t know anything. What is he/she thinking?
Effective Response – Once I’ve calmed down, I think I’ll talk to the coach to find out what skills I can improve on for next year.
What do you see is the biggest difference between the responses? It’s clear that the ineffective responses are directed at someone or something else. They often are accompanied with blame or excuses. Rather than being a driver, they put you firmly in the passenger seat as you relinquish all power to something beyond your control. Effective responses typically include consequential thinking. In other words, when you are responding to the weather, you are always considering the outcome or result of your response.
I encourage you to flex your response-ability muscle by thinking about the weather in your own life, then considering several effective responses.
I believe in you.
Mike Sissel (a former teen)