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There is this temptation, when things aren’t fair, to kind of go on “strike.” 

Even if a situation is not to our liking— or especially if a situation is not to our liking— we are tempted to cross our arms, sit back, and wait for whoever SHOULD take responsibility for the situation to do so…even if it seems extremely unlikely that they will. 

In the meantime, we allow that situation— which we claim to hate— to continue to exist, and probably worsen. 

I get it: it’s maddening when the people who SHOULD take responsibility for a situation, don’t. 

It’s unfair when people who SHOULD clean up their messes, do not. 

It’s frustrating when people who SHOULD have to deal with the consequences of their behavior, don’t. 

We’re allowed to be angered and frustrated by the lack of fairness of it all. We’re allowed to have, and express, our opinion on the subjects. We’re allowed to have whatever reactions we’re having. 

But what some of us then do is choose to kind of “wait out” the situation because of its unfairness. Because after all, we SHOULDN’T have to take responsibility for something that someone ELSE should by rights, take responsibility for, right? 

In principle, that’s right. 

In practice, however, going “on strike” like this has the practical effect of kind of cutting off our nose to spite our face.

There are totally situations out there that are not our fault. But if we’re invested in them— if we want them to change, if we want the situation to no longer exist or exist in a different way— then they are, in fact, our responsibility. 

Going “on strike” will not clean up a mess. Waiting for an irresponsible person to take responsibility will not clean up a mess. 

The tough truth of the matter is, if we want to see change, sometimes we have to take responsibility for things that are not our fault. 

i remember when I was working as a mental health case manager in graduate school. I had one client who lived in subsidized housing with a roommate, who was also a client of my agency. 

My client’s housemate was notoriously messy. He would absolutely destroy the kitchen the two clients shared, and never clean up his mess. It was enormously frustrating for my client, especially considering that both of them had been homeless not too long before receiving the housing provided by the agency. 

My client felt profoundly grateful for the housing; he felt (appropriately so) the his housemate was disrespecting and kind of wasting the opportunity they’d both received by refusing to do his part to keep their shared kitchen cleaned. 

It totally wasn’t my client’s fault that his housemate didn’t clean the kitchen. By rights, his housemate absolutely SHOULD have stepped up and cleaned up his mess. It was UNFAIR that my client was suffering because of his housemate’s inconsiderate behavior. 

The thing is, though: none of that mattered when it came to the fact that my client hated living in a house with a messy kitchen. 

My client’s first impulse was to go “on strike,” and to wait for his housemate to take responsibility for the mess in the kitchen. Which I totally understood: why on earth should it be my client’s responsibility to clean up someone else’s mess? 

But the fact that it wasn’t my client’s fault that the kitchen was messy didn’t change the fact that the kitchen was messy…and my client hated living in a house with a messy kitchen. 

It wasn’t his fault. But because he was invested— because he wanted the state of the kitchen to be something other than it was— it became his responsibility. 

Eventually I was able to persuade my client to be proactive and clean the kitchen himself— all the while acknowledging that his doing so didn’t mean that his housemate was somehow absolved of his responsibility or fault. 

This wasn’t about assigning blame. This was about getting a clean kitchen. 

My client SHOULDN’T have had the burden of cleaning the kitchen. But sitting back and waiting for his housemate would have been a fruitless endeavor— it simply wasn’t going to happen. 

And, in the meantime, my client would have had to continue living in a house with a messy kitchen— which was not consistent with the life he wanted to live. 

My client had to take responsibility for what he wanted— even though it wasn’t his fault that the situation existed in the first place. 

In the end, many of us are in that position. 

Assigning blame and finding fault may feel good and may be morally right…but they rarely create change. 

Only taking responsibility does that. 

 

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