I’m Trying to Teach My Kid Just 1 Thing

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When you become a dad, you become a teacher.

You teach your kid about colors and numbers and animals and the alphabet and that you shouldn’t eat dead flies you find lying on the ground.

When my kid gets older, I’ll teach him about more difficult concepts, like politics, religion, money, and sex. While imperfect, I’ll try to share with him lessons and knowledge I’ve learned from what wisdom I’ve accumulated at that point. (Thankfully, I have a few years of additional time to get some of this elusive “wisdom” between now and then.) One day when my son teaches his son, he will have improved upon these lessons and made them his own, combining the wisdom of my story with the wisdom of his. In this way, his story and mine will live beyond both of us.

Of all of these lessons I will teach (both in word and action), some matter more than others. Some lessons will have a minor impact. Some will have a major impact, reaching far beyond just the one lesson and teaching many sub-lessons below that. It’s the one lesson that, if I am able to teach my son, will mean I’ve conducted myself honorably as his father.

It’s responsibility.

When you assume responsibility for your life, it means that, no matter the situation, you understand your role and obligation. Role in the sense that you know who you are and what your response should be. Obligation in the sense that you owe it to the universe to fulfill that role, regardless of how difficult it may be. It assumes an ownership and mastery over your life that makes pains less painful and burdens more bearable.

Personal responsibility is the first, and hardest, level of responsibility. Being personally responsible means that there’s no one to blame (even if they’ve caused some damage or pain). It means that you own all of your current state of affairs (including the ones caused by others). It doesn’t mean you like or celebrate them. But you accept their existence while trying to bring forth some good from the adversity. That’s your duty and obligation.

Stop worrying about what you’re owed or what is due to you. Start focusing on what you should properly owe to those around you. Stop stressing when people treat you unfairly. Start treating other people fairly. Stop worrying about being misunderstood. Start focusing on understanding others.

True responsibility is a radical concept. It confronts our inclinations to point and blame others. Instead, it points inward. It points towards our actions, preventative actions, attitudes, beliefs, and how we process the world.

True responsibility is not about blaming yourself or anyone else. It’s about responding to the world as you find it at every moment you find yourself in it. The blame game will only take you so far. There will always be someone else to blame and one more finger to point at one more person. It will always be someone else’s fault. We’ve all known people who could spend hours and hours explaining how things were not their fault. Instead, imagine if they spent half as much energy fixing the problems they found themselves in. Instead, they whine and mope in despair and talk about how wronged they’ve been.

You either own your world or let it own you.

The truth about being personally wronged is this: The universe, and most things in it, just don’t care. Oftentimes, our senses of justices can inflate our personal significance to a point that we feel the universe will bend to our will and our sense of justice in the moment. Yet time and time again, we see perpetrators walk free. We live in a world that seeks justice. But the fact that the world is constantly seeking justice must logically mean that justice is rarely found.

While my deepest hope for my son is that he will be a person of profound personal responsibility, I also know that this is a lesson taught more in deed than in word. Our non-verbal actions and tone are responsible for 93 percent of communication. Each day, I either model responsibility to my son or teach him its dark counterpart. My son will never learn responsibility unless I, first, am responsible towards him. I must fulfill my role as a father and the duties and obligations that magnificent role endows. We see, all too often, what happens when fathers miss teaching their sons this critical life lesson. And, even when I don’t teach it perfectly, I hope he recognizes that he’s still responsible for being responsible.

My son, be responsible for the things you do.

Be responsible for the things you choose to leave undone.

Be responsible for the words you speak.

Be responsible for the words left unspoken.

Be responsible for the people you let into your life.

Be responsible for the things those people do to you.

Be responsible for the pain you feel.

Be responsible for how long you choose to feel it.

Be responsible for reaping that which you’ve sown.

Be responsible for reaping that which others sow into you.

Be responsible for your the thoughts you dwell on.

Be responsible for the things you choose not to think about.

Be responsible for the chances you take.

Be responsible for the chances you don’t take.

Be responsible for making your relationships work.

Be responsible for those times relationships end.

Be responsible for the friendships you make.

Be responsible for the friendships that drift apart.

Be responsible for the career you set yourself towards.

Be responsible for the times your career hits a dead-end.

Be responsible for every new beginning and opportunity.

Be responsible for ever final chapter and ending.

Now, my son, go be responsible

Because you are responsible.

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