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Soulful Sundays: Heroic Responsibility

To be, or not to be: that is the question:

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them?


No matter how you slice it life seems to be a never-ending sequence of conflict, action, and resolution. This is the primordial story arc. The wheel that drives us forward or backward depending on what side of the resolution we wind up on. Within this story there are three distinct roles: hero, villain, and victim. The one who acts with courage, the one who acts with malice, and the one who is acted upon. Today I would like to discuss how we can all take more responsibility in our lives, extract ourselves from victimhood, and develop the confidence to direct our story towards courage and goodness.

In the I Ching, the ancient Chinese "Book of Changes," a clear case is made for the necessity of personal responsibility. It states that all conflict is a result of inner conflict, meaning that the mental and emotional state of the individual shapes the mental and emotional state of society as a whole. The I Ching constantly reminds the reader to explore the intention behind his actions. If that intention is to create some desired outcome in another person, then the action is failed before it begins. Rather, if the intention is to be a better person and increase ones virtuous character (regardless of others), then the action is in line with the universe. Others will follow those with virtue and correct their own wrongs.

In determining the intention behind our actions we must ask ourselves some vulnerable questions. The first is, "To what degree have I created the conflict I am facing?" This is where we must come face to face with our identification with victimhood. If you believe that you had no hand in creating the conflict that is upon you, then you have no levers to pull in the process of resolving it. By playing victim you forfeit your power. Period. Bad things happen to us all, but there is a sharp difference between those who move on, creating create beauty from tragedy, and those who constantly identify with being victims. It's absolutely necessary to grieve when we need to, but ultimately we must roll up our sleeves and get back to living.

The second question is, "What assumptions are I making about the conflict I am facing?" Humans have a strong confirmation bias, meaning that we first arrive at conclusions (for emotional reasons) and then cherry-pick evidence to support those conclusions. If we want to break the habit of inner conflict, we must first become adamant about exposing our assumptions. Assumptions lead to tension when they are not met, and tension and positive intention cannot coexist. We become obsessed with seeing the world as we want it to be, rather than the way that it is, thus forfeiting our power to act effectively. By letting go of our limiting beliefs and using the simple mantra of positive intent to guide our actions, we can overcome even the toughest challenges.

The next question is, "What behavior can I change to have some effect on my situation?" Actions speak louder than words and it has been proven again and again that it is easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting. Lead with action and the feelings will follow. We are what we repeatedly do. There is no way around that statement. Behavior change will feel absolutely alien when you first begin, so one must have grit to continue forward. It takes at least 100 days to change a habit. Patience, consistency, and accountability are key.

The final question is, "How do I integrate the role of the hero into my mind, body, and soul?" The simple answer to this is to live honestly, do your best, don't hide behind excuses, and constantly look for ways to improve. Living life in this way will not be without its fair share of dark nights, but that is precisely the point. Character is forged through struggle. When you make the conscious decision to become the hero of your own story you will begin to identify as someone who acts courageously. It will become part of your character, and not just something that you find enjoyable to do when it suits you. You will no longer deliberate about the right course of action. You will just know. At least that's the goal. This clarity is known as wisdom. Sometimes we are blessed to glimpse wisdom, but the majority of the time we must continue with our work trusting that it is out there, waiting to be seen. Good luck and stay courageous.

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