Responsible to, but not for, another

Written by Lydia | March 20, 2015

Another major distinction I like to draw attention to (re. earlier articles on being child-like vs child-ish; acting in self-interest vs being self-ish), is that we are responsible to others, but not responsible for others.  I heard this one from Dr Eng Kong Tan, a Buddhist psychiatrist/psychotherapist who is founder/director of the Metta Clinic on Sydney Australia’s north shore.

What this means is that we have a responsibility to act mindfully and consider the impact of our actions on others, but not to the extent that we are responsible for their (over) reactions and underlying issues.  We are not responsible for another’s past wounds and vulnerabilities, but we are responsible to not use their vulnerabilities against them, and to not inflict our issues onto them. Being responsible to, implies speaking our truth (which can be ultra challenging for both the sender and the receiver), and treating others with care and respect.  We are not responsible for how another might misconstrue our intentions and project old hurts onto us.  We can take responsibility to explain and clarify our intentions, but not for another’s refusal to hear us or understand us.

Too many of us engage in over-caring about the impact of our actions and feelings on others to our own detriment, and ultimately, to the detriment of the relationship. We might get caught up in protecting them from our pain, even though their actions perpetuate that pain (okay for us to feel pain, but not okay for the other to face a painful consequence?); or conversely protect ourselves from being disappointed (out of fear of not getting the response we hope for)?  By so doing, we deprive the other person of the opportunity to address or deny the issue. We miss out on the potential for getting an issue resolved. We miss getting to the truth and heart of the matter. And growing and deepening our relationship in the process?

There is a fine line, however, that is too often crossed by those who use this concept as a weapon.  As the saying goes – the best form of defence is offense?  When rather than accepting responsibility for hurtful impact on another, someone may attempt to deflect all responsibility back onto another by suggesting that they “chose” to feel and/or react a certain way, in an attempt to absolve themselves of the pain of responsibility (and subsequent guilt?). That line is not always clear, and subject to one’s interpretation and vantage point, but always worthy of exploring, and always an opportunity for growth and development, rather than focusing on who’s right and who’s wrong? Rather than fleeing or fighting.  Can we rise to the challenge and flow with it instead?