Who Put the Free in Responsibility?

freenresp“We can be just as free as we are responsible.”
— Fred Rogers, The Cosmic Shed

These are not just words of wisdom to speak by, they are a practice to learn how to live by. The next step in learning the dance of Collabortive Relationships, we feature:

Accepting personal & social responsibility.

Blue spiralWe know the “blame game” all too well: “you did this… you did that…you started it.” We spiral down into a hole of tit-for-tat exchange. Truth be told—this is verbal abuse and this is how many are communicating through conflict with each other. We are hitting, smacking, kicking, and beating each other down with our words. This is why we feel so hurt when we walk away from arguments that are based on a reactionary social model. I call it verbal violence.

I remember when I realized my responsibility in participating in verbally abusive interactions, even if I didn’t intend to, or was unaware. I found myself in screaming matches with my partner at the time and one accusation led to another. All the while, I was a self-acclaimed peace activist. Something wasn’t adding up. If I wasn’t finding a way to resolve a conflict peacefully with someone so intimate, I couldn’t claim to be a peace advocate. I went searching for answers.

Non-Violent Communication (NVC) 000060840027_WEB-600x396developed by Marshall Rosenberg has shined the light on our socialized communication tactics that we (often unconsciously) use with each other. Culturally, through media, social norms, and relationship examples around us, we are constantly witnessing unhealthy communication styles rooted in reaction and violence. NVC was a wake up call to accepting my responsibility with how I interacted with my partner. It was hard to face the truth of how my intention (peacefulness) didn’t line up with my behavior (unhealthy communication). As an activist for peace, I was actually doing so much to help the “other side” so to speak—literally. I would be a phony if I didn’t pay tribute to Rosenberg’s NVC work and how it has contributed to my own education in unlearning a violent communication style (which is a constant work in progress).

In my own work, I found that the violence perpetuated by our cultural communication model exists due to the inability to accept personal responsibility i.e. the unwillingness to admit to a weakness, confront a truth, or apologize for one’s actions. I have found that when people accept personal responsibility, it

»  removes the roles of a villain vs. victim dynamic.
»  allows us to be truly honest with ourselves and speak from that place.
»  builds trustworthiness and integrity.
»  strengthens our vulnerability muscle.
»  engages conscious participation in the creation of our lives.
»  opens the doors to thinking about creative solutions, rather than re-living destructive problems.
»  invites people to be accountable in the creation of a situation or conflict.
»  creates openness to hear, respect, and understand one another.
»  engages learning how to navigate healthy conflict.
»  creates a feeling of deeper connection and being known unto each other.

1496_2574When we admit to our personal responsibility in interactions and find resolve by doing so, we are taken out of the confines and cages that blame, dishonesty, verbal violence, assumption, and unconsciousness create. We stand strong in owning-up to who we are with grace. We speak our personal truths. We claim our self-respect. We expand our ability to understand. But most importantly, we open-up and we let each other in. Responsibility is part of how we find the freedom to love and be loved as we truly are.

Let’s Get Salvaged.

trash peopleDisposableThe word first came into use in the 1640s, meaning “that may be done without.” It later grew to describe diapers, “designed to be discarded after one use.”¹ However, it didn’t take long for it to pertain to everything…even people.

In our modern society, so much time, attention, and energy is shifted away from building deep and meaningful relationships that serve us, our communities, and the planet as a whole. For most,  time (which is our most valuable contract with Life itself, as we never know how much time we have) is invested in making money to meet our basic needs and pay off debts. We pursue hyper-individualistic paths of leaving a legacy through a brand, product, or outer world achievement to bring fame & fortune. As a result, there are many ways in which we treat each other like we are disposable in everyday interactions and activities. The culture of capitalism is one of “disposable goods,” and life itself is no exception. In short, we practice disposing of ourselves and of each other. This is the curriculum of our culture. In the end, we suffer; our relationships suffer.
images-4I am “damaged goods,” we say, referring to our baggage. Whether we mean childhood needs that didn’t get met (emotional, physical, or both), rejection in romantic attempts or otherwise, or hurts from relationships past, we all experience some level of heartbreak.  At some point, we feel “disposable” in relation to another. We experience being dismissed by another who doesn’t have the time, attention, and energy to give in a moment we need them to. Heartbreak is heartbreak. It hurts. Plain and simple.  And without greater understanding and healing, these experiences form impressions and expectations that are hard to break.

This baggage can work twofold:

1)  It makes us less trusting, lending itself to a hardened protective layer around ourimages-2
heart that ultimately gets in the way of building lasting, meaningful relationships in the future.  From this, we create self-sabotaging patterns that we are often blind to. These keep us from receiving what our heart really desires — to feel genuine connection, to love truly, and to be truly loved.

OR

2)  It refines the filters we use to decide who belongs in our most intimate circles (those who are willing to meet and receive us in our vulnerability).

trashbagdateSo we come to the table as “damaged goods,” our baggage along with us.  To encourage my point, imagine our baggage as trash bags. Then, imagine going out on a date with someone who showed up with 5 trash bags as an indicator of their baggage. This could be off-putting at first, although it might be humbling compared to the 10 you’re carrying. Good thing this isn’t the case; otherwise, we’d be tripping over each other’s baggage all the time. Oh wait…we do. So, what to do? You may be thinking I’m going to offer the obvious, “Leave it in the past, learn to let it go, or just drop it.” Nope.

It’s not trash. Even our baggage needs our time. It’s not disposable. It is part of our story. Whether we like it or not, it shapes who we are. If we are going to learn how to stand in our truths, we must learn to stand in the whole Truth of who we are: the messy and the beautiful. This is a triumph in unlearning our disposable habits. Instead of throwing out the baggage, I offer to lighten our loads. We can learn how to utilize it in a healthy way. I cannot expect anyone to simply drop their baggage, leaving it in the past like it never happened. It did. However, we can learn how to navigate it. This is where the healing comes in.

92e5ff47e564cbcf3aea658eb1f6922cTruth is, we as “damaged goods” can become salvaged goods. It is time we learn to salvage each other. To salvage is about renewal, it is about reclaiming and recycling.  It is about creating things to truly last, which takes quality time. Salvage renders our worth back. In its Latin root, “to salvare, is to make safe, secure.”²  It’s no wonder that our baggage often coincides with our insecurities.salvage flower
So here goes… I am reclaiming you—from the trash.  That’s right! You. And your bags! Mine too.  Let’s go through them together. What’s in there? Can it be useful? Can it be redefined? Renewed? Can it contribute to a creative endeavor? Can it become a gift?  It is time to shift what we’ve been taught about trash and make the time to discover its treasure—Let’s Get Salvaged.

Special Note to Readers.                                                                                                       The art of Salvaging can be very messy. It takes a collaborative approach to begin learning how to navigate baggage in a healthy way.  For beginners, I suggest seeking quality
counsel. It is important to have mutual respect, attention, and energy given in this process. When one-sided, it is an unhealthy relationship pattern.

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¹,² All definitions from: Online Etymology. http://www.etymonline.com