A stimulus is anything we experience through our senses and provokes a response in us. S. Covey has this to say concerning stimulus. “Between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose.”[i] Because we have the God given capacity to choose, we are not the product of our genes.[ii] “I can’t help it; I’m just like my grandfather; or my uncle Joe.”
While it is true that parents have great influence on their children, we are not merely victims of our childhood. Therefore, as adults we bear the responsibility of the choices we make; we can no longer hold someone else responsible:[iii] “I struggle because of the dysfunction of my family,” “My father’s abuse is the cause of my addiction,” “I’m abusive to my wife and children because that was all I saw and experienced as a child.”
Nor are we the product of our current environment, “My behavior is my wife’s, husband’s, economy’s, school’s, or friend’s fault.” [iv] In other words I’m not responsible for what I do — something in my environment causes me to behave the way I do.
While not always openly, often we use these excuses to hold others responsible for our behavior or poor disposition. We claim that our behavior is someone else’s fault, and if they only make the necessary changes our problems will go away. However, no matter how hard we try, the only person I can change is “me.” There are situations I cannot change, but I can change the way I respond. Dallas Willard in his book Divine Conspiracy states that, God has given to each of us a “kingdom or a queendom.”[v] Each of us is responsible for managing what lies within the boundaries of our kingdom or queendom. We are not required, nor can we be responsible for, what lies inside someone else’s kingdom or queendom. Marilyn Ferguson, states, “No one can persuade another to change. Each of us guards a gate of change that can only be opened from the inside. We cannot open the gate of another, either by argument or by emotional appeal.”[vi] Ultimately, the only person you can change is “you.” The only person I can change is “me.”
Steven Covey says, “Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions…”[vii]. It is not what happens to us that harms us. Of course, things can hurt us physically or economically and can cause sorrow but our character, our basic identity, does not have to be harmed at all. In fact, our most difficult experiences become the crucibles that forge our character and develop the internal power, the freedom to handle difficult circumstances. What matters most is how we respond to what we experience in life.
Our greatest problem is not those other people or events but our response. Our response to those events determines the strength of our character. Taking responsibility for my conduct is an integral part of my character. When in a conflict, don’t blame, but rather seek to figure out what part you play and make amends for whatever damage you caused. Remember, conflict does not happen in a vacuum, but in the context of relationships.
[i] S. Covey
[v] Dallas Willard Divine Conspiracy
[vii] Covey 8 pg71