Abdicating responsibility, losing power

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Spring 2011The old saying from Spiderman goes like this, from Uncle Ben to Peter Parker:

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

We know that power and responsibility go hand in hand. Irresponsible use of power eventually destroys both the power and the wielder – that’s just the natural order of things. Only with vision, care, responsible use, and unwavering ethics can power be maintained or grown long-term.

We know that power is attracted to responsibility. Mitch Joel has a great expression: “money flows through responsibility”. People who have resources want them to be used well and to benefit them, not to be squandered. Even the most altruistic use of resources does provide some net benefit to the donor, though that may not be their reason for donating.

Here’s where it gets interesting to me: what happens when people willfully shirk responsibility? I’d suppose that Uncle Ben would say that as you choose to forfeit responsibility, power will leave you, too.

We see this reflected in commerce: those unwilling to take on the responsibility of risks (owning a company, for example) will not accrue the material rewards for doing so.

We see this reflected in government: as more people choose to willfully turn over their responsibilities for their own welfare and the welfare of their neighbors to the government, they give away their personal power until they have none and their governments control their lives. Some of the most famous dictators and despots in history were democratically elected.

We even see this reflected in the microcosm of social media. People willfully choose to give away their responsibility to grow, becoming acolytes and followers in the truest sense of the word rather than leaders in their own right. “Social media experts” would not exist at all had we not chosen to turn over our responsibilities to learn, explore, and grow to others, preferring to have someone else do the hard work and just retweet the infographic afterwards.

If you want power, take on responsibility. Take charge of your life, take charge of your career. Take ownership of your mistakes and work to repair them as best as you can, or at the very least inoculate yourself against repeat performances.

There’s a wonderful exercise taught by Stephen K. Hayes in which you recall from your past someone betraying you, letting you down, disappointing you, stabbing you in the back, etc. and all of the implications of that. The exercise flips around in the second half of the mediation to have you retell the betrayal story, but make it seem as if it were your own fault that someone else took advantage of you. It’s a powerful exercise in reversing our abdication of responsibility, and an important first step on reclaiming your responsibilities – the first step on your path towards greater personal power.

What things in your life have you abdicated responsibility for?

What things in your life can you reclaim responsibility for?

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One response to “Abdicating responsibility, losing power”

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    Part of having power and responsibility means shouldering it, good and bad.  It means being a good steward of the people and resources at your disposal.  It means honoring and sharing and leading in a way that brings dignity and respect to you and everyone in your sphere.  It has rewards attached, but the biggest benefits are those from seeing everyone you know prosper and succeed as well.  Being a mentor to someone is the biggest honor you can have.

    Some people are scared of responsibility because they doubt their own power, or worthiness to wield it.  Self-doubt or the sense that there are too many people relying on you to save them could make any Superhero annoyed.  As Mr. Incredible said in the opening of his movie “No matter how many times you save the world, it always seems to get back in jeopardy.  I feel like the maid- I just cleaned up in here, can’t you just keep it clean for ten minutes?” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fwHlyurv-0U

    Community leaders get tired sometimes of being the leaders.  But the true leaders and mentors may not be as flashy, but they are working day to day to empower legions to learn to help themselves.  And those are the folks I want to be around, because they inspire me to do the same.

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