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Responsibility Shifting: An Example Case
John & Jane
Here is an example to start this essay out:
John Doe wants to have someone sing at an event coming up that he is putting on. He asks Jane to sing because he’s heard she’s a good singer. Jane accepts and sings at his event. Afterward, John goes up to Jane and says, “That style sure was unexpected. I don’t really think people here appreciated it.”
See, Jane sang a more jazzy version of a well-known song but the crowd was traditional and doesn’t like remakes. Who is to blame for people being upset that she sang a different style than they were expecting?
Jane for not having anticipated what style of song they were looking for
The people for having expectations that weren’t met
John for having asked Jane to sing without listening to her or giving her instructions on what was acceptable and what she might not want to sing
I can argue for all of the above.
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I’ve been in Jane’s position and I’ve blamed myself. If it was me, I would have thought about how I could have asked what song to sing or what the people would like most. But it’s dawning on me that it is not really up to the Janes of the world to anticipate what other people’s reactions are going to be. There can always be someone out there with an unanticipated unreasonable expectation. In other words, you’ll never please everybody. You simply cannot calculate everyone’s expectations out yourself.
Sure, she could have taken a little responsibility and asked John for more information but I would let her off the hook for it in this example because John didn’t give her any instructions and was happy to let her have free reign on that decision.
On a side note, I think what so many people call “being an empath” is a defense mechanism from some childhood trauma. In order to not get other people upset (because maybe they’re borderline personality or otherwise troubled), a child will learn how to read people and sometimes imagine what others are thinking or feeling in order to play the role of whatever or whoever that particular person they’re interacting with wants. In order to placate others (who would otherwise get overly upset) they morph into a role that is “acceptable.”
Then, they grow up feeling as if they know what others are feeling because of a combination of their intuitions and imaginations. I am trying to unlearn this behavior, so I know how it works in myself. Personally, if someone claims to be an empath, I would more likely think they were traumatized as a child than believe it at face value.
I bring this up here because the Janes of the world, blaming themselves, are likely in this category of being accustomed to trying to figure out what everyone else wants in order to make them happy. It’s not a single person’s personal responsibility to know what every other single person out there wants and to walk on eggshells for the rest of their lives. Of course, the liberal left-leaning people would say it is concerning using preferred pronouns and many more examples. But it’s really not, because it’s an impossible task to ask of anyone. We’re not mindreaders and people can lie and say they’re upset or offended when they’re really not.
2. The Crowd
The people who come to hear someone sing at an event may have an expectation that it will be like the rest of the events from their past. On my law of attraction substack, I wrote an article about how the only reason someone gets offended is that they have beliefs about how things should be. They could work on changing their beliefs about how things should be and try to see the jazzy version of the song from a new perspective. Or, if they were going to be that upset, they could take personal responsibility for going to an event without knowing what type of music might be played.
I think John really holds the most responsibility here. He was the one who was in charge of the event and he actually failed at arranging a singer who the eventgoers would enjoy. Perhaps they even would have enjoyed Jane’s singing if he had explained what type of song, or even told her which song, to sing. John should have known what type of crowd would come if he was putting together the event and advertising it to specific people.
Who is Responsible?
I clearly say John, but who do you think is responsible? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts. As I’ve stated some people may share in their responsibility here. Jane could have asked for more information first, the crowd shouldn’t get so easily offended or upset when they were the ones who chose to go to it in the first place.
I think our society should discuss where responsibility lies in situations like these more often. Too often the wrong person is blamed. In this case, John clearly failed at putting on an event in which he pleased his crowd, but in order to not feel guilty he blameshifts (or responsibility shifts) that onto Jane instead. If Jane is healthy and understands this, rather than blame herself, she should explain to John that it was his responsibility to explain what types of songs would be acceptable or not before the event.
Pause & Reflect on Responsibility
When you are feeling blamed about something, or blaming others, consider pausing and asking yourself, does anyone else share the blame here, or is someone else completely responsible in this situation?
You may be incorrectly being blamed for something that is someone else’s responsibility. But, you also may be blaming someone else for something you could have taken some personal responsibility for. If you find that you could take more responsibility than you have been, do so. You’ll find you feel less powerless and more powerful over your life when you do that.
However if, after mindful consideration, you believe it is not your fault, don’t feel guilty about it. Instead, you can try to explain that other people had responsibility for whatever it was.
However, in many cases, people are stuck in the drama triangle and focused on having a scapegoat (persecutor) and won’t listen to you. In those cases, it’s okay to back away from the conversation. At the very least, you will feel better knowing what is happening more clearly.