[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
Today’s model polarizes. That is, it doesn’t build consensus or bring people together.
While building consensus and bringing people together may sometimes help in politics, if you want to stick to your values, you won’t improve your life by living partly by your values while mixing in some other peoples’ values you disagree with.
So today’s model will create a model that, for me at least, separates an embodiment of my values from its antithesis which, for me, helps me live by my values. I don’t know if it will work for you.
A model to promote being more responsible: the leader and the victim
When I was growing up and something didn’t go my way, I would say “but it’s not my fault” to try to make myself blameless. I would often then find someone to blame and imply they should be punished and I should get something for my suffering.
When I didn’t get something I wanted I would say “why don’t I get candy [or whatever]? My friends do!” I complained things weren’t fair, implying others should agree with my sense of fairness and that someone else should make it fair.
In other words, I acted like a victim. By saying it wasn’t my fault I implied I was powerless. By saying it was unfair I implied others should agree with me and help fix my situation. By blaming others, I implied those others who agreed with me should take something from the people I blamed and give it to me.
Sounds great if you can get everyone to agree with you.
The small problem is that not everyone agrees with you — not the people you want to give the dirty work of getting from others and giving to you, and especially not the people you think owe you.
Another small problem with victimhood is that it motivated me to magnify my problems and act as miserable as possible to get more sympathy and help.
(By the way I call these problems small not because they aren’t important but because they’re small relative to what I call the big problem below)
It’s easy to connect this example to politics because everybody thinks the government should do the dirty work and that it already does it the wrong way. Rich people think the government gives poor people free stuff and should stop. Poor people think the government gives rich people free stuff and should stop.
But I’m not talking politics. I’m talking about your personal life. To keep myself from getting into politics or judging others, I stick to evaluating my life by where my behavior and beliefs stand between powerless victimhood and leadership based in responsibility.
Leadership and victimhood are the two poles on an axis along which I polarize my behavior. Now, I don’t care how I label things. I care about how I live my life. Do I solve problems or not? Do I fill my life with reward or not? If I live my life by my values and create reward, I don’t care if I’m nearer to one pole or the other. I just find that being near the victim pole rarely improves my life, so finding myself there warns me to examine my situation closer and see what else I can do.
The big problem with blaming others and identifying yourself as a victim is that you risk behaving consistently with your beliefs — that is, you risk acting powerless.
When you blame someone else and hold yourself blameless, you imply you didn’t cause it, generally implying you can’t do anything about it. You also look at the past, which you can’t change.
I don’t argue whether that view is right or wrong. I only point out I look at it differently. I don’t look at the past, nor do I look at what I can’t control, which is the other person. I look at the present and ask what I can do. Maybe it was their fault, maybe not. I don’t think about that. What can I do — that’s what I think about.
When I use this belief
I use this belief when I find myself blaming someone else for my problems and notice that it makes it harder to solve the problem.
What this belief replaces
This belief replaces making myself powerless with my own beliefs. It will also replace the victims and martyrs in your life with people who solve problems. It replaces blame with responsibility.
Where this belief leads
This belief leads to leading myself and others. To solving problems instead of getting mired in them. It leads to self-empowerment. It leads to taking responsibility in the present over dwelling in the past.
If you’re not careful it can also lead to political discussion if people read more into this than I imply.
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
- Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
- An excerpt from my book