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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Response- ability vs Duty; Elm, Pine, Oak Bach Flowers

It all started in the ophthalmologist's office the day.  I was sitting in the waiting room with a teenager I feel quite responsible for.  In fact, I was feeling very irresponsible.  We were flunking the intake questionnaire.  We couldn't even remember when she had last had an eye exam and we both knew it had been much longer than the recommended minimum of two years. Eye brows were being raised in my direction. I was feeling sadly lacking in the "parental responsibility" category.

In my defense, there hadn't been any signs of issues or problems.  This teenager hadn't been running into trees, having problems seeing the blackboard (does anyone use a blackboard anymore?), or experiencing headaches. But still. Taking your children to the eye doctor seems to be one of those duties that parents put on their "list of responsibilities".  I think it had been on my list- probably for a few years.  I think there might even have been a message or two left on the phone about  making an appointment.  Maybe even an appointment that had been cancelled because it didn't fit into the  teenage schedule... I found myself grappling with excuses for why I wasn't totally to "blame".  It didn't really work.  I felt responsible. I picked up a magazine. The front cover story was about how teenage brains develop.  It gave scientific developmental reasons for why teenagers aren't always as "responsible" as we would like them to be. It seems we are blaming them for things while they are in fact, developing abilities. Perhaps my brain was still young, or at least under developed.

We left the office without any need for glasses and I left feeling oddly satisfied that finally I had checked something off my list of responsibilities. That felt both right.. and wrong. Something didn't sit right and I starting thinking, and now writing, about that sense of responsibility. There is something about it I don't like...

I looked the word up in the dictionary.  Ahh... now I know what isn't right about it!  It's spelled wrong!  It's spelled responsibility. What is that "i" doing after the "s"?  That's the problem.  Collins Canadian Dictionary provides the following definitions;
"responsibility (of a position or duty) involving decision and accountability; responsible for having control or authority over"
Well, maybe that explains the "i".  I believe the only person I have control and authority over is "I". I may be able to influence my teenager (at least when she was smaller maybe???) but I really don't have control and authority. She is her own capable person, always has been, always will be.

I would like to spell the word differently. I want to spell it respons-ability.  After all, that's how we pronounce it!  Response ability is a totally and completely different thing to me.  It's a positive take on things rather than a way to assign blame. 

Response ability is something we talk about in emergency management.  It suggests a set of skills and resources that can be called in to action when required. Response ability is shared and something you develop.  If one finds a gap or a lack, you call in more resources to increase your response capacity and ability.  It isn't a negative thing. It's a request, an ask, a mutual aid call. We can't all the resources we need for everything.  It isn't practical or manageable.  It isn't within most budgets even. It isn't a sign of weakness, it's a fact of reality. If things don't work out well during an event, you don't assign blame, you reconsider the resources you might need to respond next time.Hmm..

It seems when you consider responsibility to be an "I" thing, you can get overwhelmed pretty quickly. You know exactly what you should do and are pretty competent and capable, but every once in awhile you get overwhelmed with the list. That's an indication for the Bach Flower Elm. So this is a pretty normal human emotion; to be come overwhelmed with responsibilities to the point that you feel unable to deal with them all.  Seems to me that's the point that we should be calling in mutual aid and increasing our response ability rather than trying to shoulder the load.

If you don't catch that  Elm state of feeling overwhelmed with responsibility in time, you can find yourself in a Pine state; full of guilt and self-blame.  If you feel you are in control and authority over all those things on your list, all those people in your life, all that "stuff", when something gets missed, like years of eye checks, for instance, you might just start taking on some blame. Not a very comfortable place, and often pretty lonely.

If you don't catch the Elm state, fall into a Pine state, and keep that cycle of self-reproach going ,you might find responsibility becomes a sense of duty that spirals right into an Oak state. Over a period of time, and with some conditioning and socialization, you might just find yourself an Oak type, or at least with a pretty thick layer of Oak bark on you. That Oak personality keeps going driven by the duty to respond, ignoring the fact that your abilities are running out and it's time to call in mutual aid.  In an Oak state you'll just keep on taking on more responsibility and you'll keep doing until you crash- perhaps literally. You don't allow others to share the load, you figure you have to do it yourself.  You might not even notice they are offering to help. Not a comfortable place, and often pretty lonely.

Any one of those three Bach flowers might be helpful if you're thinking of responsibility with an "i". All three might be indicated. You might find a dose of Water Violet thrown in there to help you accept the gap and consider mutual aid is also helpful. 

But maybe we could also start to reconsider the word. Maybe, rather than assuming we have the responsibility as a duty, control, or authority, we could asses our response ability. Response ability is a collective.  There may be other people, methods and resources that you can call in.  Maybe you're trying to do something without looking at the resources available to you. Maybe you really haven't assessed your true response ability because you're too busy trying to exert control an authority over situations.

Perhaps we do that globally.  It seems we spend a lot of time trying to determine who has the responsibility to act.  Seems to me that's what international politics and government structure is built on: the duty to respond. Maybe if we just consider the abilities we have as people, parents, even countries, we could share our resources, eliminate the blame, and maybe, just maybe, respond a little better?

I've taken the need to control eye exams scheduling off my "to do list".  The office is going to call that teenager with the response ability next time.  They'll suggest an appointment and using the multiple technological devices she has at her disposal to organize her time, she'll set it up and work it out; or not.  If I'm asked to drive and am available, I will. If not, someone else will.  There are a lot of resources within our mutual aid system if we allow them to respond. The point is.  There is no "i" in my response ability.  It's all about sharing and no blame needs to be shouldered nor will be accepted.  We're in this together.

I'm going to take a real hard look at my "list".  I'm going to take the "i" out of the equation, and insert an "a" for abilities.  When I release control in favor of abilities the list becomes much shorter and guilt is gone. The response is more effective. I can read the writing on the wall...


  1. Thanks for a great insight. Comforting too. You do comfort very well!
    In gratitude,

  2. The gratitude is right "back to you"! Thanks for the support.