A few years ago, I had a job working with apprentices in further education. Part of their learning programme was a module called ‘Rights and Responsibilities’. To my shame, I never really delved into the details of it at the time, to me it was always just something that was delivered online and ‘ticked off’. However, one day I sat down and thought about it a bit more deeply and realised its significance, particularly in relation to getting on in life and behaving like a mature adult.
Rights and Responsibility
I started to think more deeply about the relationship between the concepts of ‘rights’ and ‘responsibilities’. I can remember exactly when this happened, it was a few years later when I completed my teacher training and I would regularly receive protests in the classroom from angsty teenagers unhappy with some of the things I was asking of them and determined to express their right to refuse. It occurred to me that in life plenty of people are more than willing to tell you about their ‘rights’ to do something, or not to do something, but when it comes to taking responsibility for the fallout then people aren’t so keen.
Rather than pushing against this, my approach in the classroom was to acknowledge, and even accept the protests, but always, without exception, point out the consequences. The biggest frustration, of course, is the unwillingness to shoulder the responsibility, despite knowing the consequences, especially when we feel that an event is not our fault or we are being made to do something. A lot of this is due to how much control we feel we have over a situation which is a deeper topic and far more complex than I feel qualified to cover off. But on a basic level, it’s the concept of taking responsibility for our actions and owning them, and sometimes even accepting responsibility for something that isn’t our fault, or we have no control over… imagine that!
Should we fear Criticism or Embrace it?
How many of us fear criticism because we don’t want to be shown to be at fault? How many of us behave defensively and even dishonestly in a bid to constantly avoid this situation? And how many of us actually lean into this and use it as a way to improve? Is it egotistical to constantly deflect blame an inflate our own sense of ability or is it a survival instinct? What if we all stopped to think more often and considered events from new perspectives before launching on the defensive? What could we change about ourselves and our interactions with others?
I’ve recently received online criticism from a customer, thankfully it's extremely rare for this to happen, but why am I even telling you this? Well firstly I feel safe in doing so because I know the criticism is unjust, but secondly it highlights the point that, despite this fact, I still have to 100% take responsibility for it because it’s my business and it’s my reputation that’s at stake. But the great thing is, I have the power to determine the outcome of this situation through the way I deal with it. I could choose to copy it, paste it all over social media and belittle the opinions of this customer, which sounds laughable because it isn’t my style, yet I have seen other small businesses do this on numerous occasions and I always wonder why. To me, this goes back to those angsty teenagers in the classroom, “it’s not my fault, you are totally out of order with this, you’ve hurt me and it’s my right to hit back.” Or I can a different approach and use it as a learning experience and write a little blog about it. I can’t change it but I can control the outcome and make it a more positive one. I don’t know if I’d go this far, but I have heard it said that some people actively welcome regular criticism because they love the opportunities it gives them for self-improvement. I don’t think I’m thick skinned enough for that but I can see the point.
Seize the Power
I did a little work a few years ago on the topic of ‘Locus of Control’ in relation to personal resilience. I won’t go into it here, as it’s another topic on its own, but the point is, the more that you accept the power to control an outcome sits within you and not outside of you, the more empowered and stronger you will feel.
Apologies if you disagree with my approach but I do find writing blogs to be a great way of organising my thoughts, I think the writing process itself is cathartic for me and if even one person finds it useful and thought provoking then I feel like it’s been a worthwhile exercise. I’m not trying to blow my own trumpet make myself out to be a saint, just try and share some useful stuff. Thanks for listening, Helen xx