One day (while avoiding work…this is an article on responsibility after all), I found myself aimlessly scrolling through Facebook. I came across a video by actor Will Smith. Smith, I would soon learn, has quite a collection of brief, yet thought-provoking videos. The one which captured my attention on that particular day was about fault vs. responsibility. In the video, Smith shares a recent conversation with a friend, during which the topic arose. According to Smith, his friend placed blame on “her” acquaintance about the hurt she felt from what she considered a wrong. Will responded, “It really don’t matter whose fault it is that something is broken if it’s your responsibility to fix it.” As I continued to listen to his three minute speech, I was struck by the truth of Smith’s message and impressed that he felt so strongly about this subject that he went viral.
I began to think about the times in my own life in which I’ve faced fault vs. responsibility, how I’ve reacted in the past, and how I’m learning to respond today. But going from a shoulda, coulda, woulda world to viewing a situation objectively takes real commitment. To go from getting all caught up in the anger and resentment of someone “faulting” me to being constructive in my response and ability (my response-ability) means shifting my role in any and all situations.
What had I learned from listening to Smith’s thoughts and opinions?
That the responsibility ball is ALWAYS in my court, and that I ALWAYS have a choice in how I want to serve it.
But what about “rights”?
“I have the right to be angry!” Again, sure you can (and will) respond based on your emotions, but what’s the most constructive response(s)? Think about it. When was the last time you cussed someone out? Did your attack elicit all sorts of vulnerabilities in the other person? I would wager…no. I would bet your volleys were met with resistance, ego, and defiance. The result is typically more anger and hatred. “Oh yeah Buddy? Well you’re an even bigger ass!”
When we place an issue at someone’s feet and they deviate from what we expect, it can and often does feel as though the other person holds all the cards. “Taking on” the responsibility of fixing something somehow makes it seem like the other person possess all the responsibility. No matter how hard you try or want to, you simply can never, ever, ever pass on the responsibility buck! You can’t, it’s impossible; however, you can AVOID taking responsibility, but that my friends is still a response.
While this concept of always being tied to our responsibility can be incredibly empowering, it can be equally infuriating! I sometimes WANT a “get out of jail responsibility free” card. I sometimes WANT the issue to be the other person’s job to solve. I WANT the finger pointing away from me.
It doesn’t take much reflection to remember the times I faulted others and the times I took responsibility. I can’t think of a single time when my focus on another’s fault left me feeling at peace. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we shouldn’t hold others accountable for their actions. For instance, keeping my car at a repair shop when nothing is being repaired doesn’t benefit me. Plus it’s a reminder (or should be) that I’m not being responsible on my end, that I’m not utilizing my response and ability…my response-ability!
Another point to remember, in our rush to fault others, is that when we focus all our attention on someone else, we end up sacrificing ourselves in the process. We lose sight of ourselves and who we are. When was the last time YOU thought you lost someone? Did you feel at peace? As you frantically searched, more than likely you felt panic and out of control. These are the same feelings we get when we lose ourselves, when we take our eyes off the role we play. This is why fault creates such a feeling of unease. It’s hard to find the solution to a problem when you’ve refused to walk down the answer path.
How often in my relationship have I seen this scenario played out? How often in the midst of fault have I lost myself, only for panic to set in?
I always tend to pluck a story or memory from the recesses which left a lifetime impression, a tattoo, if you will. This particular one is when John had a friend stay with us, one in which I got lost.
John and I had discussed at length his friend coming to visit, an overnight visit. This was our first overnight stay as a married couple and with a play partner. I was confident I would be fine. I felt secure and ready to accept the next level in our open lifestyle. In the days leading up to her arrival, I bordered on nervous excitement, and when the day finally arrived, I was encouraged by my positive attitude. I was excited to have her in our home and to prove to myself (and my husband) that I was ready for this next step. Oh, it was a step alright, a step right off the side of a cliff!
The next 24 hours would see me vacillate between smiles and tears. In my excitement and eagerness to expand our swinging relationship, I didn’t account for any suppressed, opposing emotions. It hadn’t occurred to me that all those decades of teachings I had received while growing up would go to battle with my “new and improved” thought pattern. I was blindsided. Stunned.
No, I wasn’t rational enough to consider any of the above, instead I went to my trusty ally…fault. “This feeling I’m having must be John’s fault! If this woman wasn’t here, if John hadn’t suggested she visit, I wouldn’t be going through all these conflicting emotions!” Did I stop long enough to remember that I had eagerly agreed? Had I conveniently forgotten that I WANTED to progress in our happy lifestyle?
Fault does this.
Fault will never be your friend—it distorts your perception of reality, it takes your focus off what truly is important, it consumes your time, and renders you incapable of finding a rational solution to the true issue. I didn’t have time to concentrate on what I could and needed to do because I was so busy looking at what John should be doing and should have done. The problem with fault or blame is that it tends to produce the opposite of what we want. My surge of opposing emotions left me feeling vulnerable, I began questioning my own status in the relationship, and my fears kept mounting. I went autopilot and began finding or at least seeking out fault. My fears exploded as a result. Why? Because instead of constructive Jackie, I became destructive Jackie. Fault tears down whatever it faces, whether something or someone. Fault produces a false narrative, and the true picture becomes muddled…hazy. On the other hand, responsibility offers tools.
What was the true issue? Was John at fault? Was fault even the culprit?
The true issue was fear. My old thoughts and beliefs pitted my new self against what I now wanted from life and my relationship. I was treading in new territory, blazing an unmarked path. I would need to travel this trail many times before I knew the route and found comfort in where it would take me. I would only understand this process once I let go of fault and accepted my responsibility. It was okay that I was feeling off. Of course I was, this was all new. I wasn’t a failure because I felt conflicting emotions, I was growing! But I needed to give myself a break and realize that I would and needed these moments of growth. Faulting John for my fears only pulled me further away from the lesson. Once I was able to calm down long enough to own my response and ability was I finally able to confess my fears. Once I stopped trying to run from my feelings through fault finding, were John and I able to communicate in a constructive, open, honest, and loving manner.
What was so surprising was the speed in which my attitude changed. I went from hopeless and helpless to empowering problem solver. Once I was honest with myself and took responsibility for the honesty, I began to see solutions, ones which would help me through the next sleepover. I saw first hand how crippling fault finding leaves oneself, and how, by focusing all my attention on John and trying to grow in our marriage, I left myself, who I am, how I feel, and what I want. I reacted out of emotion, which was to place fault on my husband rather than taking responsibility and finding a solution to an issue I was uncomfortable with at the time.
Of course, the whole responsibility vs. fault issue is one that plagues all our lives, everyday. Please don’t get me wrong here, we all need to take responsibility for our actions and make the necessary adjustments; however, in saying that, there’s a line, and we can never let others drag us down into the depths of self doubt and fear because we take on all of the responsibility—it’s a two way street.
If we were in this relationship together, I was going to have to learn to make room for me and the responsibility I brought to the union. Once John and I joined forces responsibly, we were able to grow in the open lifestyle together.
John and Jackie Melfi are married swingers and in an open relationship. They were featured in an ABC News Nightline special report “Getting ‘Naughty in N’Awlins’: Inside a New Orleans Swingers Convention” and are the force behind the industry famous colette swingers clubs in Dallas, New Orleans, Houston, and Austin and the award-winning blog Openlove101.com with over 20 years of combined experience in open relationships and coaching thousands of couples.