Rule 3: Take responsibility for your actions and their consequences

‘Take responsibility for your actions and their consequences’ sounds preachy, though I don’t mean it to be. ‘We’ definitely includes me!

Politicians exemplify the lack of foresight that needs to precede action. From Trump’s actions and speech while president that deepened divisions within the United States, to the British government’s stop/start policy for lockdowns, politics is beleaguered by short term thinking. Rarely do presidents and prime ministers have regard for the long term consequences of the decisions they make.

I’ve noticed that many people seem to have no idea that their personal behaviour inevitably produces results of one sort or another. How could they not? Yet so many seem oblivious to the fact that action (even inaction) has consequences; oblivious or wilfully ignorant. These consequences are not always the ones that might be expected – see the law of unintended consequences – and certainly they are not always positive or beneficial.    

The rest of us can be much the same. We think only of now. Indeed, we’re encouraged to do so by exhortations to ‘live in the moment’ and  ‘sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof’ – but as useful as such existential advice might be, we also need to give some though both to the future and to the impact our behaviour might have on others. And we need to own it. Our individual behaviour and its consequences are our personal responsibility, if we’re mature adults that is (and isn’t this what we try and instil in our children?)

We have nobody else to blame for either the way we act nor for what it leads to. Nobody makes us act or react in a particular way, we make the choices ourselves. Granted we may not all have the same advantages in life. Our background and personal baggage may well influence how we behave. Nonetheless, our behaviour, and what it leads to, is ours alone and ours to own. Given this, it is well to give some thought to the consequences of our actions ahead of time. ‘Act in haste, repent at leisure’ as the old proverb has it.

A woman – let’s call her Sarah – who was a member of a group I once belonged to was sharply critical of everyone else. She could, in fact, be extremely nasty. However, if anyone responded to her in kind, as people often did having been subject to her unpleasantness, Sarah was stung and deeply offended. ‘What an extremely rude person,’ was her usual retort. In this way, she systematically fell out with most other people in the group. When a new person joined, someone with whom Sarah had fallen out with previously, she declared she would leave if this person was allowed to stay. She had no supporters, having behaved unreasonably with most other members and consequently Sarah left, feeling unjustly and unkindly treated. She could not see how her downfall was of her own doing.

We can take credit when the effect of our actions is positive. We need to take responsibility when it isn’t. If we wrong someone else or affect their or our own lives adversely, then it is up to us to make reparation, to put right what we can. What we haven’t done, however, is offended any gods. We have not ‘sinned’. Neither has anyone had to die to fix things for us. No imaginary sacrifice from thousands of years ago is going to pay a penalty on our behalf. We remain irresponsibly infantile if we excuse ourselves with such thinking. We are the only ones who can take responsibility for our actions and their consequences. We learn and grow when we do while others are ‘saved’, from our carelessness and belligerence.

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