Laura Burke - Coach
It’s not your fault
WARNING: You may not like what you are about to read. Some of it may feel like a splash of cold water to the face. Contrary to the main title… this is not some cushy ‘let you off the hook’ blog. It’s about taking responsibility.
When I first started listening to podcasts a growing number of years ago, I felt like there was an overwhelming message of “It’s not your fault.” For context, I was mostly listening to podcasts about health and wellness, nutrition, personal development. There were so many reasons and explanations why society is the way it is, why “we” are the way we are, why you are the way you are. And ever since then I still feel like I hear all the data on why other people, corporations, governments, countries are the reason for the ills of the world, the less-than-desirable in our lives and therefore serve as justification that we are not each living out the perfect expression of who we truly are, who we truly can be. This pervasive messaging creates a paradigm where people throw up their hands, feel disempowered or upset or angry, attribute blame… and stay there. What I often feel is missing is the other piece: that regardless how or why things are the way they are, we can each do better. Even more than that: we have a responsibility to do so.
Very simply: Responsibility is about taking ownership of what you can control or influence. You cannot control the world, or other people. You can control yourself: What you do, or don’t do. What you say, or don’t say. How you react and respond. How you treat other people. Whether you accept what is or help create something better. You can control what you try to influence – by your word, your deed, your example, even by your intention. Responsibility is not about fault or blame. Responsibility doesn’t mean perfection, or mopping up everyone else’s mistakes. Responsibility is about looking forward and embracing possibility, not letting the past define the present or the future.
I’d like to use an example to help illustrate my point, to explain my perspective on what responsibility means and what it does not mean. The example is of unhealthy food and the associated messaging, and a growing problem of obesity and illness. Please be clear: this is not meant to body shame anyone or claim there is one and only one way to be ‘healthy’ and it is not to deny a myriad of contributing factors to one’s health. It is simply an example that I think most people can wrap their heads around.
There is a massive force putting unhealthy food on the shelves of stores and in restaurants of all types, food that is physically and emotionally addictive (on par with heroin), partnered with messages in every form from every angle telling you that you want to consume it. Really badly. All the time. And lots of it. Because it is SO good and you can’t live without it. And there is an accompanying narrative that tells you: See? It’s not your fault if you are unhealthy, or overweight. There is a prevalence of readily and accessible food and drink combined with powerful messaging that is designed to make you unhealthy. It’s a trillion dollar industry. This is true. But it’s not the truth.
I saw Andy Andrews speak in 2016 and he talked about the difference between something being true and the truth. The classic, and easiest, explanation of the difference between true and truth is the story of the Blind Men and the Elephant. If you’re not familiar with it, take a minute to check it out. Heck, even if you do know it, take a 2 minute tangent to refresh!
So… the truth is, humans lived for thousands of years – hundreds (or at least decades) in what we would describe as ‘modern’ society – in a relationship with food that did not lead to the levels of dis-ease that we have today that are directly attributable to what we put in our bodies. The truth is, there are an ever expanding number of options that are healthful, returning to a more natural way of eating and enjoyable. And less damaging to the planet. The truth is, there is an ever expanding body of information and evidence that exposes the fast food, packaged food paradigm for what it is. The truth is, we each choose what goes in our bodies. It’s not OK to just shrug your shoulders and say, “it’s XYZ’s fault the world is the way it is” and continue to eat Doritos and guzzle Mountain Dew. It’s important to take responsibility for your health and make better choices because I’d be pretty surprised if you actually thought Doritos and Mountain Dew were beneficial to your health.
This is not about changing “It’s not your fault” to “It IS your fault” – I’m not interested in placing blame. I’m not the judge or the jury, and I don’t think there is a lot of value or benefit to placing blame. In fact, the blame game can truly be an endless exercise of “Well… A caused B; but C caused A; and D caused C; and E and F caused D…” and on and on until we’re blaming poor Eve. Or perhaps blaming God for creating Eve. I’m also not interested in looking backwards. What has happened has happened and we can learn from it but we are not served by living in it. I’m simply saying that regardless whose ‘fault’ it is (if you still want to use that word), it’s YOUR responsibility to open your eyes to the possibility of a better future.
You can open your eyes because we live in a time where information is everywhere and there is choice in where we get that information. Where do you get your information? By now, 2021, I think (hope?) it is pretty well known: Just because something is written, or online, or on the news doesn’t mean it is true, let alone the truth. Just because you ‘saw it’ with your own eyes on Facebook or TikTok or even CNN doesn’t mean it is true. You know this, right? Choose your sources wisely, and question what you hear or read. If everything you consume supports what you already believe, is exactly what you want to hear (that old “too good to be true” stuff), never makes you feel at least a little uncomfortable… then you might consider expanding or mixing up your sources.
I’m not saying this is all “easy.” And I know that not everyone has access to the same things or information. A wealthy person with a cushy schedule and access to organic farm stands has a much easier path to healthful eating than a single parent working more than one job for whom going to even a ‘decent’ grocery store is a major (and therefore rare) endeavor. But we can all start with even small steps.
There are plenty of other examples I could have chosen – how we treat the environment / planet, how we treat each other (i.e. prevalence of racism, gender bias, etc.), how the distribution of wealth is becoming increasingly polarized with unimaginable percentages of our world living in poverty. It’s just not OK to bury one’s head in the sand, because it is not your fault things are the way they are.
OK… as my Mom would say: I will “step off my soapbox” now! I’m not claiming it is your responsibility to fix – or even care about – everything. No one person has to save the world alone. I am asserting it is your responsibility to take ownership of what you can, and make incremental steps. Just try.
I’m also not claiming that I have mastered all of this. There is a family size box of Frosted Flakes in my pantry at this very moment, that I personally bought. Family size. But we do try to generally make healthful food choices and get exercise. My family doesn’t have a “carbon neutral” footprint. But we have solar panels and recycle a lot. And we are not quite there, but are working towards 10% tithing. We are taking steps each day to be better than we were the day before.
To repeat and wrap up: Responsibility is about taking ownership of what you can control or influence. You cannot control the world, or other people. You can control yourself: What you do, or don’t do. What you say, or don’t say. How you react and respond. How you treat other people. Whether you accept what is or help create something better. You can control what you try to influence – by your word, your deed, your example, even by your intention. Responsibility is not about fault or blame. Responsibility doesn’t mean perfection, or mopping up everyone else’s mistakes. Responsibility is about looking forward and embracing possibility, not letting the past define the present or the future.
Responsibility is about trying to do better, to be better, each day – compared to what you did and who you were yesterday. It’s about doing things to make tomorrow better than today.