Two extreme questions for becoming infinitely more powerful
Caesar Barber didn’t want to die. So he filed a lawsuit.
Barber, a maintenance supervisor, weighs 272 pounds. He has diabetes and high blood pressure and cholesterol, and he suffered two heart attacks before the age of fifty-six.
Barber’s health problems, he claimed in his lawsuit, were caused by fast-food corporations. He said,
“I trace [my health problems] back to the high fat, grease and salt, all back to McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King — there was no fast food I didn’t eat, and I ate it more often than not because I was single, it was quick, and I’m not a very good cook.
“It was a necessity, and I think it was killing me, my doctor said it was killing me, and I don’t want to die.”
Keith Brown would undoubtedly sympathize with Barber.
An inmate in an Idaho prison, Brown filed suit against several national beer and wine companies, blaming them for the almost thirty years he has spent in prison. Alcohol, he says, has “played a major role” in the crimes that landed him there. He stated in his self-drafted lawsuit that,
“At no time in my life, prior to me becoming an alcoholic, was I ever informed that alcohol was habit forming and addictive.”
Perhaps Bernard Bey, a thirty-two-year-old homeless Brooklyn man, was trying to one-up Barber and Brown when he filed a lawsuit against his parents, stating that they have been “indifferent” to his “problems.” Blaming them for his homelessness and aimlessness, he said,
“I feel abandoned. The relationship I share with my parents is not a beneficial one. Not a loving, nurturing one…Their actions over the years have caused deep rooted wounds that cannot heal on their own.”
Apparently, those wounds can be healed by the $200,000 he wants a judge to force his parents to pay him.
(Can’t you just just hear the Extreme “Hole Hearted” remix? “There’s a hole in my heart that can only be filled by cash.”)
All right, listen up. We can snicker at the blatant absurdity of Barber, Brown, and Bey. But by doing so, we miss a critical lesson: every one of us shares their tendencies.
I don’t highlight them to mock them, but rather to learn from them.
We all look for someone else to blame for our failures and inadequacies. In one form or another, to one degree or another, we all try to escape responsibility.
Our irresponsibility and victimhood may not be as extreme as theirs, but it still cripples and limits us.
Every time we get angry at the person who cuts us off on the freeway, we’re playing the role of the victim.
As long as we harbor wounds and refuse to forgive our parents for hurting us, we remain in victim mode.
The irony is that we blame others in an attempt to fix things, but by so doing, we eliminate our ability to fix anything.
Intrinsic to every human being is limitless power to change his or her life and to change the world. But so very few people ever achieve greatness because we relinquish our power through victimhood.
The only way to reclaim our power is through extreme personal responsibility, which is expressed through two questions.
Any time anything happens that frustrates, angers, or hurts you, ask yourself these questions:
- What have I done to contribute to this?
- What can I do to improve this situation?
Yes, I’m talking about asking these questions when you get fired without cause. When your spouse develops an addiction to pornography. When your mother abandons you. When Nazis break into your house, murder your children, and haul you off to a concentration camp.
When I said “extreme,” I was dead serious.
Taking extreme personal responsibility isn’t about feeling ashamed or embarrassed. It isn’t about beating ourselves up. It’s about reclaiming our power. The more responsibility we accept, the more power we have to change things.
In most cases, as we ask those questions we’ll find an uncomfortable answer to the first one.
But even if we are truly innocent, the second question still remains.
Corrie ten Boom did nothing to cause Nazis to imprison, humiliate, and starve her. But what good would it have done her, what power would she have gained, by blaming them, harboring anger toward them, seeking revenge from them?
You may be completely blameless for your husband’s addiction. But what power do you gain by focusing all your energy on his weakness?
When we wallow in our pain, we don’t actually want solutions — we want justifications for our pain, failures, deficiencies, and limitations. The reason we can’t find solutions in victim mode is because that’s not what we really want.
This perspective may feel cold and indifferent to our innocent suffering. But in truth, it’s the only thing that can truly help us. It is the only truly humane and caring perspective there is; anything less may make us feel good temporarily, but can do nothing to genuinely uplift us.
We have the power to make our lives supremely joyful and magnificent. We have the power accomplish monumental feats of greatness that change the world.
But that power, to be active, must be reclaimed from victimhood through extreme personal responsibility.