Response-ability

An idea (for life and business) that has stuck with me as of late comes from Fred Kofman’s Conscious Business.

“You choose to act as you do because you think it is the best way to pursue your interests in a given situation. External facts are information, not stimuli.”

I read the quote as a statement of empowerment and responsibility—YOU get to choose how to respond in any situation.

Fred goes on to write about your ability to take on UNCONDITIONAL RESPONSE-ABILITY.

Response-ability is your ability to respond to a situation. You can respond to an offer by choosing to buy or not buy. You can respond to a complaint by choosing to listen or argue.

I call response-ability “unconditional” because your responses are not determined by external circumstances or instinct. They depend on external factors and inner drives, but you always have a choice. As a human being, you are an autonomous (from the Greek, “self-ruling”) being. And the more conscious you are of your autonomy, the more un-conditioned your responses will be.

Ability to respond does not mean ability to succeed. There is no guarantee that what you do will yield what you want. The guarantee is that as long as you are alive and conscious, you can respond to your circumstances in pursuit of your happiness. This power to respond is a defining feature of humanity. Our response-ability is a direct expression of our rationality, our will, and our freedom. Being human is being response-able.

Unconditional response-ability is self-empowering. It lets you focus on those aspects of the situation that you can influence. When you play cards, you have no control over the hand you are dealt. If you spend all your time complaining and making excuses for your cards, you will feel disempowered and most likely lose the game. But if you see yourself as having a choice in how to play those cards, your feelings will change. You will have a sense of possibility.

Responsibility is not guilt. You are not responsible for your circumstances; you are response-able in the face of your circumstances. To take an extreme example, you are not responsible for world hunger. You didn’t start it and you didn’t worsen it. It exists independently of you. You are, however, able to respond to world hunger. In fact, world hunger is such a pervasive problem that you cannot not respond to it. You can ignore it, you can read about it, you can donate money, you can work in a soup kitchen, you can volunteer for the Peace Corps, or you can devote your life to feeding the hungry. Whatever you do, that is your choice, your expression of your response-ability in the face of world hunger.

Read more here

This notion of free will is not particularly unique (surely you have heard the trite statement before) but recognizing (and to me at least emphasizing) that YOU (or I in this case) have the power is an incredibly enlightening concept.

Reading about this idea is one thing. You can roll your eyes, but consider trying to truly embrace it.

As a challenge, go through your work day today and note down (can just be to yourself) who you see as acting with INTENTIONALITY versus REACTING in any given situation. You can notice this on the really micro level—who reacts to external “triggers” as if they were BIOLOGICAL STIMULI FORCING A FLAGRANT REACTION.

One thing that helped drive the benefit of intentionality to me was considering the value of reacting immediately versus waiting to react. It struck me that there was practically no benefit in having an immediate reaction, but there were major downsides because very often my immediate reaction contained emotions and did not consider all the alternative ways of reacting.

I find that most people optimize for the immediate reaction such that they can find an emotional catharsis (feel heard, get the anger out, feel less alone, get less insecure). This is then being prioritized over the objective at hand. When you react emotionally, it is likely (not always) that you are compromising doing what is most effective for the business.

This all relates to patience, presence, and acceptance.

Over the last several years, I find I have spent a lot of energy complaining about the ineffectiveness others. In doing so, I wasted a lot of time and was largely ineffective in many of my pursuit. How ironic! The person complaining about ineffective people—blaming them for failures—is the one failing.

At the end of the day, what I care about above all else is getting things done. If other people are [insert ineffective word], I say, who cares? Figure it out. Figure out a way (ethically) to achieve your objective and the rest will be history.

Now, you can choose (hopefully) to work with people you are more compatible with and hopefully as you become more successful you will have an increased amount of choice BUT IN THE MEANTIME, you effectively have two options:

  • Complain
  • Accept and find solutions

Acting without intentionality—REACTING ALL THE TIME—is lazy and ineffective. Take a breath, accept the flaws of others, and be patient. And when I say patience, I do not mean that you have to wait 10 years or even 10 days to get something done. I mean you have to maybe wait 10 minutes before giving your reaction. Maybe 10 hours.

And when you do that, a few things happen:

  • You get more time to reflect upon your answer
  • You get to provide an extremely intentional answer (that includes delivery, tone, etc.)
  • You get the other person to feel like you are giving something an extreme amount of thought

I have known about this notion of short-term patience (perhaps that is what we call it) for some time now but have struggled to implement it because again I’ve been allured by this emotional catharsis—this URGE THAT I FEEL SO STRONGLY TO GIVE MY TRUE RAW THOUGHTS.

It turns out that this urge is just stuck in my head. Sure it’s pretty far ingrained due to conditioning over the years but the reality that I choose to accept is that it is all in my head—it’s not a biological stimulus, it’s not a law of physics (yes the golden rule is not a real rule) that you have to give your opinion to something (especially not immediately).

Accepting this, literally reminding myself of this often has proven to be the only way to stay sane and work with others.

YOU have the response-ability. No excuses.


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