Shit happens

Author: Denis Karasev
Shit happens

(Principle of Personal Responsibility)


In 2021 scientists finally settled a long-lasting dispute and made an announcement: dinosaurs became extinct 66 million years ago after the Earth had been hit by a huge asteroid. Previously there had been many other versions explaining their extinction: global cooling, several powerful volcanic eruptions and some other factors… But whatever the truth is, one thing is known for sure – dinosaurs’ extinction was not their own fault: some got killed right after the explosion of the asteroid, others died out later because they couldn’t adapt to the changes in their environment. Though some species of ancient fauna did manage to adapt to new circumstances, having gone through all stages of survival.

Now let’s use the example of these prehistoric giants for examination of our current situation. Any business person knows that development and prosperity of business is not only a matter of skills and competences – very much depends on the environment: economic, political and even epidemiological conditions. A perfect example of this statement is the 2020/2021 pandemic, which, like that asteroid, destroyed many companies, immediately or within these two years since they were unable to return their position at the market. But there were companies, which managed to survive and even to grow. Thus we may conclude the following: business owners are not always to blame for the crush of their companies but they are always responsible for surviving of their business in the post-crisis period.

There’s a saying, which is very popular among Americans – shit happens. It is believed to have become popular after the release of my favorite movie Forrest Gump (1994). Though shit happens was recorded already in 1983 by Professor Connie Able from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in his annual collection of his students’ sayings. Shit does happen in everyone’s life. It doesn’t have to happen through our fault, as is the case with the pandemic, but what happens next depends solely on our efforts. So if the fall hasn’t immediately killed you, the Principle of Personal Responsibility might be the tool you could use both to survive the crisis and to adapt to new circumstances.

The biggest problem is that people are determined not to take any responsibility for their life, business or family – instead they prefer to shift this load to someone else’s shoulders. Psychologists say that such behaviour is caused by the acuteness of the crisis point when there isn’t enough moral strength to respond to challenges and make decisions. It’s much easier to find someone who we believe is to blame for all our difficulties and who shall be responsible for finding a way out. But let’s ask ourselves: what really happens at this moment? Here is the answer: the steering of My Life ship is passed to someone else, so there is no more chance to control its direction.

The Principle of Personal Responsibility for your thoughts, words and actions is, in my opinion, the second most important principle after the Principle of Intention, which I described in another article. When it becomes part of our credo, we get the right to choose our direction and shape our future. Andrea Bottlinger and Claudia Hochbrunn write in their book Heroes on the Couch that “by taking responsibility for our actions, we cease to be victims of circumstances”. In this case we can describe our future as follows: today is the result of the attitude to life I had yesterday.

Once you relieve yourself or even shift responsibility to someone else, we begin to blame the whole world for our misery. I agree that such behaviour may bring momentary relief but if you are deep in debt, you are fired or your wife has left you, who may determine your future? A greedy boss or your mean wife?

Mark Manson, the author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, mentions that many people are afraid to take responsibility for their problems because they think that such responsibility is the same their fault. Responsibility and fault are often associated with each other in our culture. But they are not the same things. For instance, if you woke up one day and there was a newborn baby on your doorstep, it would not be your fault that the baby was put there, but the baby would now be your responsibility. You would have to choose quickly what to do (keep it at your home, get rid of this baby, leave it on the doorstep, etc.) – it would be your choice, and if it leads to any problems, you would be responsible for these problems. Here and there we are responsible for situations that are not our fault. But that’s life.

Of course, our life is full of problems that happen through our fault. They may be caused by our hastiness, unawareness, excessive emotionality, etc. In this case, by recognizing our fault we promise to ourselves to learn from this situation, draw a line and move on. This is responsible behaviour too.

In other words, all our problems, whether they result from our own fault or from unavoidable circumstances, may only be solved if we are ready to take responsibility for our further steps.

Let’s stress the importance of personal or personalized responsibility. All of us know of shared responsibility, but this notion has now become rather blurred so arguing about it is rather useless. It is appropriate to talk of shared responsibility only if we talk of people who join a society and understand consequences of this action. For instance, all members of a criminal group, whether they commit its crimes or not, are responsible before the law though the punishment will be different. But it’s not appropriate to talk of shared responsibility on national or racial grounds, because people don’t choose their nation or race.

It is also absolutely useless to force people to share responsibility – in the end no one will be responsible for anything. I have an example from my own life to prove it. My family and I used to live in a small Russian town for a few years. Our neighborhood was located close to the centre but was mostly occupied with cottages with a rather dense housing. Walking out of our gate we would find ourselves on the road. It was less dangerous in winter because the roadway could be better seen, while in spring and summer we could hardly see the road through the bushes so there was a high risk to walk out of the gate and get hit by a passing car.

An idea came to me to put a speed bump for traffic calming. I suggested to my neighbours that we should write a mass petition to the mayor’s office. To my surprise no one supported me, though everyone was aware of the problem. All the residents said they had already taken measures but those measures had brought no results and so they didn’t want to waste their time anymore. When I asked them what measures they had taken, they couldn’t give any answer. Yet all of them were sure that they had more than once tried to solve the problem but it was unsolvable. This is an example of shared responsibility in which you can’t find who is really responsible.

This dangerous spot of the road where drivers thought they were at a F1 racing, thus threatening the lives of people and animals, was there not through my fault. But I took personal responsibility for solving this problem because my family were at risk and so I filed my personal petition. Writing petitions and complaints to the mayor’s office had been lasting for several months until in one of my letters I decided to mention names of the persons from the mayor’s office who would be solely responsible in case of a car accident, which they might have prevented if they hadn’t ignored my warning letters. The speed limit bump was there pretty soon.

This simple example shows perfectly that shared responsibility is pointless and brings no results. I had been unable to solve the problem until I mentioned specific individuals who would bear personal responsibility for their inaction. I turned my wish to have a safe road into an intention, which was followed with action. The shared responsibility of the mayor’s office was also transformed into a personal one as soon as I specified names and positions of the responsible persons.

When you’re guided by the Principle of Personal Responsibility, you change your attitude to life. If water comes out badly out of  your household tap, don’t blame the “low-quality” tap or a plumber (“he’s all fingers and thumbs”) – blame yourself because it is you who lets this situation last and spoil your life. You realize that if you don’t make much money, you can’t blame your greedy boss but only your laziness, which prevents you from challenging your skills and aspiring for a better-paid job. If you have saggy side fat, don’t blame heredity or your sugar craving – blame your indifference to yourself. Do you want your mean boss, unskillful plumber, sugar craving or heredity to rule your life? No? Then take personal responsibility for your own life!

Once you begin to apply this vitally important principle in your life, you shall realize that your mental and physical abilities, your prosperity, family and personal happiness solely depend on no one but yourself. No one but you is responsible for your life.

Another perfect example is the life story of Nick Vujicic, the famous Christian evangelist and motivational speaker whose love for life inspires the whole world.

Nick was born in December 1982 in Melbourne, to Serbian immigrants. His mother Dušanka was a pediatric nurse and his father Borislav was a preacher. The happy day of having their first child was clouded by a horrifying fact: the baby was born with a very rare autosomal disorder – tetra-amelia syndrome, which means absence of arms and legs. At that time Nick’s parents were utterly shocked: they couldn’t imagine how their child would grow, study or live. And so they decided to solve problems as they arise.

Of course, Nick’s childhood wasn’t easy! But his parents met all the challenges with courage, however hard it was. One day Nick felt he couldn’t stand it any more and he thought of committing suicide, but the idea of the pain his death would do to his parents prevented him from making that fatal step. Despite the refusal to commit suicide, Nick’s hardships didn’t stop but he began to feel that one could enjoy life with a tetra-amelia syndrome too and he the one was responsible for his happiness.

Soon Nick realized that he was not to blame for what had happened to him and yet his future would be the result of his own action only, and he began to work upon himself.

Today Nick Vujicic is one the most famous motivational speakers. He travels around the world and his story inspires millions of people to overcome different challenges life make to thems. He delivers speeches at universities, schools, sport organizations, medical aid centers and even in prisons – anywhere where his help is required. According to Vujicic, hundreds of thousands of ways are open to him, and the world is full of people, whose life is very hard. As a message of hope, he has something to say to them.

Nick’s first and most famous book is Life Without Limits: Inspiration for a Ridiculously Good Life (2010), where he tells his life story and describes his deprivations, hardships and struggles. This book has become a bestseller and inspired thousands of people to change their attitude to life. Now he lives a full life. He’s married a very beautiful woman and they have healthy children.

A university professor may be very strict to you, your boss may be making too many orders, your wife may be in a bad mood, your children may be untidy, your family may be prejudiced, your friends may be arrogant and the whole world may be cruel and unfair – in other words, shit happens. But there’s always a choice: you either go on like this, blaming everyone for your misery, but not doing anything to change it; or you take personal responsibility for your life and focus your attention on making your life better under these circumstances.

The Principle of Personal Responsibility is, in my opinion, essential for forming your personal credo. Your life may either be a succession of achievements or a continuous fall in the depth of misery – it’s only your choice!

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