What makes responsibility feel good?

In answer to “Unpopular Psychology” from yesterday’s post…

At a Bar Mitzvah I attended a few days ago a good desert was served and I have to admit I indulged. My macrobiotic cousin didn’t eat a thing and I felt a bit ashamed eating sugary stuff. There are so many good reasons to stay away from the sweet table. What bothered me the most was my loss of self-discipline. I was passively permitting myself to be enticed into eating what I didn’t really want to eat.

The next night I was at a barbeque. I looked at the deserts and said to myself, I know what this one tastes like, and that one and that one. Okay, got it. And I helped myself to a fresh fig.

The question was: Will I feel better from the momentary enjoyment of the brownie or from the longer-lasting pleasure of feeling good about myself, knowing I’ve exercised my defiant power and said “no” to myself?

The next day I met with a logotherapy colleague and told her this story. I posed the following question to her: If responsibility is something people run away from, would this not make logotherapy unpopular? On the flip side, many people are very happy to take responsibility. – What’s their secret?

Her answer to both questions can be summed up in two words: alignment and commitment.

If someone tells you to do something your knee-jerk reaction will probably be “Don’t tell me what to do.” Part of this reaction is out of wanting to decide for ourselves. But we also don’t like to take responsibility.

Frankl calls responsibility “response-ability.”

When we do something in response to the moment we don’t feel it as a burden. There is joy in listening and sensitively responding to what is in front of you. It fills you. In this sensitivity you are in close relationship to your self and the world. Your response is a natural one.

You sense that life is not arbitrary. You receive feedback that there is order in the world and you respond because a good place within you has opened up. Thus Frankl says that logos is deeper than logic. It’s not a rational response and it’s not an irrational response. It’s a-rational. It’s a spiritual sensitivity.

For a variety of reasons there are things we think we should be doing. We hear demands of the super-ego, demands of friends, family and society. Even demands of God can be acted upon out of a sense of responsibility – “I should…” – but not response-ability.

Response-ability means being aligned with who you are, where you are, and what you need to be doing right now. The more you feel connected and in relationship with life the less you feel coerced.

This is what happened when I said “no” to the brownies. I didn’t have to think in terms of what is forbidden or permitted. I felt committed doing what was good. And in commitment there is love. I was able to say “This is good for me; this is not good.” I felt clear.

When you’re aligned to what life wants from you it feels so good. You get spiritual satisfaction, not momentary and fleeting satisfaction. It’s an achievement.

In addition, it’s my sense that the awesomeness of “It all depends on me? Leave me alone” can with a subtle shift become “Wow! What I say and do has real impact on the world. I can make a difference!”

Apropos is Frankl’s quip to the psychoanalyst that instead of being asked to say things he’d prefer not to say the client in logotherapy has to hear things he’d rather not hear.

The sufferer doesn’t want to hear that he is responsible but he will be assisted to be response-able.

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