I sometimes chew over a phrase I remember from people like Will Smith and Tucker Max.
“It’s not always your fault, but it is your responsibility.”
What is the difference between fault and responsibility? Fault focuses on blame. People who find fault seek to punish through social shame or legal repercussions.
Responsibility directs us to the present and future while fault fixates us on the past. Responsibility aims toward repair and progress. Fault aims toward moral chest-thumping.
A person admits fault (words). A more productive person takes responsibility (action).
Responsibility is especially important when you are not the one to blame. By choosing to take responsibility rather than finding fault, one takes a step forward in life rather than stagnating, bemoaning grievances, and pointing fingers.
Suppose someone unearths a partner’s infidelity. It is easy to simply blame the cheater. The unfaithful partner would be at fault.
Yet even after the oft-inevitable breakup, problems remain. The aggrieved partner may struggle with trust. They may grow bitter and resentful of love, a particular gender, or life in general.
What can the cheating partner do about that? What should they do about that?
Life setbacks aren’t always our fault. However, picking ourselves up and moving forward is always our own responsibility.
Will Smith explains this problem of fault-finding.
Fault is a passive stance. It involves pointing a finger at someone else for one’s own pain.
Fault is wanting someone else to suffer knowing full well that the suffering of one person does not magically alleviate the suffering of another.
Holding a grudge and wishing ill upon others is like lighting yourself on fire waiting for the other person to get burned.
Fault renders us powerless. Fault consigns us to victimhood, waiting for someone else to take responsibility and fix the situation.
But life does not work that way.
Not everyone who wrongs you will apologize.
Not everyone who does wrong will suffer consequences.
The universe does not keep a ledger that rewards the righteous and punishes wrongdoers. We do not live in a just world.
What does fault-finding truly accomplish aside from a fleeting feeling of moral superiority? How long does that feeling last? What will that feeling do to improve a current predicament?
Why wait for someone else to make things right? Why wait for an indifferent world to compensate you for your suffering? Why should we assume that such compensation will ever come at all?
Fortunately, we don’t have to wait. While we cannot force anyone to take responsibility for their mistakes, we can take responsibility for our own well-being.
You are responsible for your own well-being. Regardless of how people may wrong you, it is your responsibility to nurture your mind, heart, and soul.
By taking responsibility, you assert power. No more does your happiness depend on an apology or punishment. No more can a transgressor wield power over your mind, your thoughts, or your feelings. By taking responsibility for your own problems, you empower yourself.
Taking responsibility does not imply admitting fault. It does not imply “giving people a pass.” It does not mean you should never seek compensation for damages. However, if seeking reparation, question if you seek a redress of grievance or revenge. They are not the same thing.
Responsibility simply means you have the courage to take control of your own well-being. It means you love yourself enough to move forward regardless of the actions or inaction of others.
Taking responsibility eschews the blame game in favor of productive action. Nothing we do can change the past. We can waste entire days finding fault and explaining exactly why we are in any situation that we are in. The more productive question is not what got me into this mess, but rather what can I do now?
Your quality of life is your own responsibility. Waiting for what others owe you is a risky and sometimes futile endeavor. Instead, choose to do what is best for you. Take your problems, negative emotions, and grievances by the horns. Take back your power. Don’t do it for anyone else but yourself. Because if you take responsibility for your own life, you can enrich the lives of those you care about as well.