One important element in the notion of personal freedom is self-responsibility. It may go unnoticed today, but so long as one remains dependent upon blaming another for their misfortunes, they effectively have tied themselves up. There is nothing they can do about it but get even. Thus the bumper sticker, “I don’t get even, I get evener.”
The fact is, blame is a bind that wraps us from one end to another as though we had been literally tied up. Blame says, “There’s nothing I could do — it was done to me.” Blames informs us that we’re just pawns in the matter, like billiard balls bouncing off the cue ball to the rails. I have heard blame said this way: “My mother was a prostitute, my daddy an alcoholic, and the neighbor hung heroine on me when I was 12 years old. What would you do? Ah but for the grace of God, there go you.”
I’m not saying that bad things don’t happen to some people. We are not in charge of all the stimuli that may come our way in life, but we are always in charge of our response. So long as we blame, there is nothing we can do about the matter — we are just victims. You know, “Life just sucks — and then you die.” How can you think of yourself as being free when you’re just a pawn in the game of life?
There are those who cling tenaciously to their “right” to blame. I have a friend in South Africa who is a lie detection examiner. He has a model I like. He calls it something else, but we’ll call it the “bad-luck fortune cookies” game. So, this is the story of these special cookie collectors. They go through life collecting all the cookies they can. Riding on the escalator of life, they will even jump high in the air to catch one, just so they can put it in their backpack of life experience and share it later. And share they do. Each evening, whether at home or in the pub, on the telephone or on email, they tell their friends all about the cookies of the day. These sharings go like this:
First Person: “Do you know what happened to me today? The clerk in the gas and grocery would not take my credit card because I left my purse at work with my identification in it; and she knows me. Heck, she sees me nearly every day — but she is a real grouch anyway.”
Second Person: “That sucks, but do you know what my boss said to me today? He informed me that I was always late from lunch and told me in no uncertain terms that I would either be on time or lose my job. He knows that the traffic is horrible at lunch, and he’s always gone more than an hour. I should just tell him to stuff it!”
Third Person: “Your day was nearly as bad as mine. I had a damn cop stop me for nearly nothing. Everyone in traffic was changing lanes, and just because I cut in front of him, he gave me a ticket. That’s my third one this year, and my insurance costs are going to go through the roof as a result. These damn cops should be out catching criminals, not honest tax-paying citizens.”
First Person: “Life sucks. Is your husband still being a jerk? Oh, but you know, speaking of insurance rates, my insurance company canceled my insurance just because I was late with their payment. Then that blankity blank that ran into me led to a fine for my not having insurance. And on top of that, they blamed me for the accident, and it wasn’t my fault!”
By now you get the idea. These people gather to share their cookie stories, and that is largely what their social life is all about. If you want to have some fun, step up to the cookie keepers and point out how wonderful life is. You might even explain the blame game and cookie keeper philosophy, but make sure you have a plan for a quick retreat.
Cookie keepers choose, whether or not they want to admit it, to hold tightly to the blame game. An otherwise productive and joyful life is thrown away in exchange for the “Don’t you feel sorry for me?” exchanges. That is another part of the cookie keeper game. To belong to their group, you must be willing to be understanding and sympathetic. It’s okay to top the cookie of another with a more unpleasant cookie of your own but not if you fail to recognize the poor, picked-on nature of the other cookie keeper.
A dear friend of mine grew up in a codependent family relationship, one of those Melody Beattie so aptly defines in her books such as Codependent No More.. It’s the relationship most of us know something about, for we have heard many of those conditional statements growing up. They are ones that go like this: “If you loved me, you would ____. If you had any respect for me, you would not ______. I did this for you, is it too much to expect _________ from you? I think if you cared about me, you would______.” And so forth. You fill in the blanks. Beattie sets out several criteria for recognizing codependence. In her words:
“Codependents are the people who consistently, and with a great deal of effort and energy, try to force things to happen … We control in the name of love. We do it because we’re ‘only trying to help.’ We do it because we know best how things should go and how people should behave. We do it because we’re right and they’re wrong. We control because we’re afraid not to do it. We do it because we don’t know what else to do. We do it to stop the pain. We control because we think we have to. We control because we don’t think. We control because controlling is all we can think about. Ultimately we may control because that’s the way we’ve always done things. Tyrannical and dominating, some rule with an iron hand … Others do their duty behind a costume of sweetness and niceties, secretly going about their business — other people’s business.”
Two of the keystone elements in all of this codependency is, according to Beattie, “Suffering people’s consequences for them,” and “Solving people’s problems for them.” In other words, there is a real quid pro quo in cookie sharing, and it too is at least somewhat based on codependent patterns.
My friend gave up her codependent behavior and threw all of her cookies away. She chose to become self-empowered and has made wonderful strides in the process. If you asked her, she would tell you life is a miracle, and she is very happy today. Still, her sister, with whom she has always been very close, has not budged. Her sister carries all the cookies she can and spends nearly every moment sharing them. Despite soft approaches at trying to turn on a light in the sister’s head, my friend now finds herself in that place where many who refuse to play these games eventually arrive. It is hard to change when those you love the most are fixed in ways that steal your power. My friend has decided that the next time her sister plays the blame game, she will say something to end this behavior. You see, when you stop saving your cookies and get on with taking responsibility for everything in your life, your life improves. When that happens, you lose any and all desire to be a cookie keeper.
Self-responsible means taking responsibility for everything in your life, even those events or people that do not in any way seem to be your problem or responsibility. Often the people that most antagonize us are the ones we need most to teach us what we want to learn. My mother used to say, “Birds of a feather flock together.” Call it that, or call it simple attraction, anger attracts anger, hostility attracts hostility, love attracts love, and so forth. When we see something in someone we do not like, we need to be careful, for often they are mirrors of ourselves. What we dislike in them is likely to be a behavior of our own. When we are alert to this, it’s quite easy to do something remarkable, something that truly changes your own reality. Genuine freedom does not exist in blaming anyone or anything for who we are or what we have become. Once we accept responsibility for the situation, whatever it might be, we are empowered to act. It is our action that brings about change. It is our actions and reactions that we are responsible for. Next time, instead of thinking, “So and so is to blame for this,” think instead, “What can I do to improve this matter or situation?” It is with this attitude of self-responsibility that our true potential can finally be realized.
Thanks for the read,
NY Time Bestselling Author of Choices and Illusions
For more on cookie carriers, codependence and self-actualization, see my New York Times Bestseller “Choices and Illusions.”