Does anyone else find the term “oil spill” just a tad weak for what is happening in the Gulf of Mexico? I use the word “spill’ when I knock over a glass of milk or a cup of coffee. I think “oil explosion catastrophe” might be more accurate for what began on April 20th and continues today.

Given the enormity of this disaster, it is not surprising that there has been plenty of blame to go around for who is at fault for this mess. Here is an excerpt from an article on CNN’s website today: “The companies (British Petroleum, Transocean, and Halliburton( blamed each other. BP pointed to Transocean, which said BP was responsible for the wellhead’s design and Halliburton was responsible for the cement finishing work. Halliburton, in turn, said that its workers were just following BP’s orders, but that Transocean was responsible for maintaining the rig’s blowout preventer.” Well that certainly clarifies things!

I think it is human nature–and not the best part of our human nature–that leads us to want to point fault at someone else when we find ourselves involved in a situation that is going poorly. What three year old, when “caught” by mom or dad in the midst of an escalating fight with a sibling or friend, stops and says, “you know mom/dad, I need to take responsibility for my part of this problem.” Quite the opposite. For toddlers and adults alike, the first reaction is likely to be some version of “well he/she started it–I was only reacting to what was happening.”

“I was only reacting to………” is a comment I hear a great deal in my counseling and coaching sessions. “Yes, what I said or did may have been out of control, but I was only reacting to …… his/her constant criticism…..my teen’s insolent attitude……my toddler’s tantrum…..the angry email they sent me…..” “He/She/They started it!”

There is very important difference between reacting and responding to a difficult situation. When we react, we usually feel out of control, and that is why we say the other person is to blame for our reaction. Responding is different than reacting. It involves our being able to choose the response we wish to make. This ability to choose our response is how I think of the word “responsibility.” A person with a high degree of emotional and spiritual wellness, has available to them a wide variety of responses from which they can choose when they find themselves in complex and tense situations. The opposite of this is the “reactor,” who typically can only blame or counterattack.

I have no idea who bears or shares responsibility for the Gulf of Mexico oil mess. I know this, though: I share responsibility for every emotional mess, every “emotional spill” I have ever found myself being a part of in my personal or work life. After all, the common denominator in all of those “spills” is me! I still have a long way to go, but coming to this realization many years ago was the first step for me in becoming more responsible, giving me greater “response ability” in difficult situations.

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