Habit is an effective blindfold: it keeps me from seeing what is there, and directs me away from my own responsibility.

I pulled up short behind the SUV as we approached the intersection with a small side street. It looked as if the driver was about to make a right turn without having signaled. Immediately I reacted with irritation, one that I automatically generalized to the whole category of “drivers of SUVs.” A moment later I saw there was a compact Honda (same model as I was driving) in front of the SUV who was actually making the turn.

Initially, I couldn’t see. I couldn’t see what was actually happening, so I reconstituted a dried out old story and slapped it on the moment, then reacted to it. The dried-out story was colored by my prejudices against outsized vehicles that obscure the road ahead and engage in otherwise obnoxious-to-me road behaviors. In short, thoughtless road hogs. Even though some of my best friends drive SUVs.

I was reminded of another foundational personal experience of not-seeing.

I had gone to “see” a musical, and paid a pretty penny for a decent theatre seat. Through the entire performance, I found myself leaning to one side or the other, trying to see around the large body blocking my view of the stage. I found myself muttering, “I can’t see! I can’t see!” Until at one point I almost laughed out loud as I realized that most certainly I could see! I could see a large, stolid body and a very partial view of the stage. It just wasn’t what I wanted to see. Or what I thought was fair for the ticket price.

Blame and responsibility

So today’s driving experience demonstrated to me how much more work I have to do to take personal responsibility – how I can go all knee-jerky and immediately look for someone or something to blame when things don’t go the way I want.

As I follow the news, this distinction between blame and responsibility is actually one of my pet peeves. Blame is liberally dispensed by pundits of all political leanings. Responsibility is rarely assigned via sound and nuanced analysis of complexity, and seldom assumed by anyone. The common “I am sorries,”  e.g. “I am sorry I called her a b- – – -,” “I am sorry I used the n word”? To me these “apologies” translate only as “I am sorry I got caught and called out for saying what I think.”

Here are a few behaviors  that in my book break the habit of blame and move me along to take responsibility:

  • Self-examination.
  • Taking in the damage I have done.
  • Regret – and depending on the scale of the hurt, remorse.
  • Some meaningful move to repair any damage to the injured party.
  • Resolve to not repeat the behavior.
  • Repeat all the above steps as needed.

Admittedly, there are more substantive examples of my casting blame that are of greater consequence to the people in my life, but any moment is a good moment to come awake, even if it’s “just” behind the wheel of a car.

More on habit: http://alifeofpractice.com/daily-practices/thankyou/

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