Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Grace Did It!

I stared at the red paint stain on the pale carpet. I knew how it got there. I had asked Dan over and over not to paint in his room. I had done more than ask. I made it a rule – spread newspaper on the table in the dining room and paint there. Only there. Dan does well with clear rules. They speak to his autistic brain. But apparently not to his artistic brain. How interesting that these two words are so similar. But I digress.

Dan creates beautiful pictures by painting the background and then gluing on intricate origami figures. For example, he might paint a landscape background and glue on flowers and birds. But I digress again. Back to the paint stain.

I called Dan over and pointed to the floor. “Dan, how do you think that paint stain got there?” Dan looked at the stain. I waited. Then he looked me in the eye.

“Grace did it,” he boldly announced.

I tried not to laugh. Dan had chosen a poor target since Grace didn’t live with us anymore. Even so, I was secretly pleased that Dan was able to mentally process the situation and divert blame with a lie, a sophisticated maneuver that many autistic people could not master. Still, it was a lie.

“No, Dan, I don’t think Grace did this.” Dan paused for a moment. “James did it.”

No, not James either. Dan persisted until he had named everyone in the family, including the dog.

Finally, I said, “Dan, I think you did this.” Dan looked at his feet. “Dan did it,” he confessed.

How strong is the urge to shift responsibility away from ourselves, whether it’s for something we have done wrong, or for something that seems burdensome or scary to us.

Grace had a hard time graduating from high school. At the end of her senior year, she had one paper left to complete in her English class. In spite of numerous extensions from the teacher, she continued to stall. After many frustrating and perplexing conversations, Grace admitted to herself and to me her fear about graduating. If she graduated, she cried, she would have to grow up and be responsible for her life.

Somehow we have developed a society (in the United States anyway – I won’t speak for other countries) in which responsibility has become a bad word, at least when it applies to ourselves. “You are responsible” or the more generic “They are responsible” is enormously more appealing than “I am responsible.”

But what price do we pay for abdication? Nothing less than our freedom. The phrase “freedom from responsibility” is an oxymoron because if we are not responsible, then we can be sure someone else is. We give our power away and then become dependent on whoever has it. That is not freedom.

A more accurate phrase is, I think, “freedom of responsibility.” In my own life, learning to take responsibility for myself was liberating. Scary sometimes, yes. Burdensome sometimes, yes. But infinitely freeing and full of joy.

In our family, “Grace did it!” has become the catch phrase for those times when we recognize the temptation to shift blame, to abdicate responsibility, to avoid our own power. Even Grace uses it!

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. –A Course in Miracles


  1. Around here, when there's an issue, we say, "What part did I play?" When I figure that out, things get easier.

  2. It's like Grace under fire.... hey if we can't blame it on the dog....what better place, right?! thoughts within me today really reflect on just the simple things in life...our loved ones, and sharing life with them, what else atters more? and all the artwork and beauty they can create....hugs to you all....

  3. Galen: You have your finger on the pulse of America. It is such a simple concept, but I believe it is at the heart of all our undesired cultural changes. I wonder what it will take to recapture accountablity? As each generation builds upon the prior one, we must be concerned about the welfare of those who follow. I more than understand Dan's actions, but I find it hard when politicians and people in positions of trust blame Grace.

  4. Linda--So true. Looking for our own contribution to a situation helps us keep things in balanced perspective. Thanks for your comment.

    Karen--Grace under fire. I love that! On so many levels. Thanks for commenting.

    JJ--You and I have similar views on this, I think. It was hard to stay on point in this post and not go off on a rant about politics and people in positions of trust. Then there's the education system, and the legal system. Don't get me started.... Thanks for commenting.

  5. Hi Galen......yet another post that is "right on the money." Accountability is such a huge and important concept....and yet many people are unable or unwilling to grasp it.



  6. I love this post! I think you put your finger on a very important subject here, and in a very clear way as usual. Thanks for that!

  7. You did good there again. How easily we can reject the responsibility on somebody else.
    I like your notion “freedom of responsibility.” The day I realized I was using others to refuse to face my responsibilities I became free.
    Have a beautiful day Galen Pearl and thanks for sharing your thoughts and this last quote!

  8. "Freedom of Responsibility" - I love that. While I'm a responsible person who has always believed in being accountable, I've never quite considered responsibility in terms of freedom before. Thank you!

  9. Hi Galen, it's true, we guys are a rare breed that like to divert the blame to others. Yes, I've even blamed an accident on my own kid (who is also named Grace), when I knew I was the one who had knocked it over. :) I know, I'm a terrible father. :)

  10. Jo--I know. I look around at so many examples of that in our society today. How can we turn that around? Perhaps it begins with how we teach our children, at home and at school. Thanks for your comment.

    Beliza--Thanks. I wonder if you sense the same trend away from personal responsibility in Europe. Thanks for commenting.

    Marie--That is one of my favorite quotes, too. I'm glad you have experienced the freedom OF responsibility. It's a good way to live. Thanks for your comment.

    Kara--It took me awhile to see that connection, too. What I saw was that people who abdicated their responsibility were not happy because they were dependent on others, creating chronic stress. It was a light bulb moment! Thanks for your comment.

    Bryan--Blaming it on your kid?! Ha! Guess what--I've done that, too. I wonder if we are the only two parents who ever did that. And your kid is named Grace, so the phrase "Grace did it" works great for you! Thanks for commenting.

  11. I so get this Galen! When my kids were little my daughter came to me one day with a big red mark on her cheek. I called the troops together and asked what happened and my son replied "I didn't punch her... she ran into my fist" which sent us all into fits of laughter... even though it was no laughing matter. But 10 points for ingenuity. Either way he went to his room after a strong talking to... to consider his behaviour. LOL

    Great post! I loved it... :-)

  12. Another great post and your story telling is so delightful - Graceful!

    This could have gone very political but I am so happy your kept it close to the heart and began there...yes sometimes we do give away our power and it is treated with disrespect or disregard. That is the easy way, not the center way.

    I have the freedom to be responsible.

    I reviewed the movie Temple Grandin Today - have you seen that movie about Autism or Grandin's TED lecture? I put the lecture link on site too..FYI

  13. Hi Galen,

    Great post!

    Taking responsibility for our own lives is hard enough. Taking responsibility when things go wrong is even worse. "I did it" is probably one of the hardest phrases to utter in this life and for good reason. People are always looking for someone to blame and when they find such a scapegoat they will conveniently shift responsibility to avoid taking responsibility.

    Responsibility, as you rightly point out, is a scary burden. But it is also liberating. It shifts you from a passive to an active mindset to resolve the issue at hand. A big problem in the world is we spend too much time playing the blame game and pointing fingers instead of working together to fix the problem at hand.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article! :)

    Irving the Vizier

  14. Hi Galen,
    Wow I love this post. "Grace did it!" I love the way you handled the situation and the good you took from it. We have to be responsible for ourselves and not give that power away. I do believe there are many people in the USA that are willing to give there power away and that could add up to a very scary country.

    Also I am glad that this is something that you have found the humor in and use it in the family, this way it becomes a GOOD memory for years to come. That is what life is all about.
    Blessing to you and hugs,

  15. I love what you state here Galen: "In my own life, learning to take responsibility for myself was liberating. Scary sometimes, yes. Burdensome sometimes, yes. But infinitely freeing and full of joy."

    How appropriate that Grace did it - for GOD's GRACE is all we need for accountability and responsibility.....

    Thank you for your encouraging beautiful post with humor that allowed me to chuckle.


  16. Jean--That was clever! "A" for ingenuity, "F" for behavior! Ha! Thanks for your comment.

    Patricia--Thanks for the information. I will definitely check out your post and the link to Grandin's TED talk. I appreciate your comment.

    Irving--So true about the blame game at all levels, personal and national, political and private sector. It's everywhere. Yes, it's human nature, but we can overcome it. Thanks for your comment.

    Debbie--You are right that this does seem to be a pervasive problem in the US. I actually had to persuade a teacher to give one of my kids an F! My kid certainly deserved it, and I thought that was the more important lesson. We have moved from a culture of responsibility to a culture of entitlement. Thanks for your comment.

    Nancy--I, too, was struck by the appropriateness of Grace's name. "Grace did it" can have several meanings! Thanks for your comment.

  17. Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure... Beautiful! That sure does speak to our sense accountability. To truly act out of truth and love... and be accountable for one's actions would certainly lessen the need to lie or make excuses. I guess for some, it is not easy to stand up and say "Yes, I did that!" when a person pointedly asks, "who did it?". To lie and to make excuses for one's actions is a learned behavior that has developed by means of positive and/or negative reinforcements experienced throughout life. To love unconditionally, however, is a self-learned ability that transcends expectations and reinforcements. We are all on the journey of developing this ability. The more we act out of unconditional love, the easier it is to be accountable for our actions.

    Thank you for sharing this post... I am in full thought here :)

  18. Ajen--"The more we act out of unconditional love, the easier it is to be accountable for our actions." Wow. That is a valuable insight. Thank you for making that connection. I'm going to remember this!

  19. Thank you for this wonderful and intuitive post. I know just the person I need to share this with. I am sure this many be just the answer to our problem. I hope you have a wonderful Sunday.

  20. Funny post Galen. I have learned that there is power in responsibility and not the other way around. It seems that the mind (who can think lazily) associates more work to responsibility and does not like that.

  21. Bonnie--I hope it proves helpful! Thanks for your comment.

    Justin--Well, the mind might be right in terms of work. Responsibility does often require some effort. But the benefit is all the freedom and power that come with it. Thanks for your comment.

  22. Very good story. It is so true that being responsible for our own lives is overwhelming to some, especially our younger generation.

  23. When I was about 50 or late 40s I began to learn that not only am I responsible when I spill paint on the carpet...but I am responsible for my feelings. That's still a hard one for get it that no one makes me feel bad. That is my choice. So hard. It sure seems like it's because of "them"! But that's the norm I try to avoid. I am responsible for me. Well, unless maybe it's all Grace's fault after all. Sandra :)

  24. Ellen Marie--Yes, and I wonder what we are doing as "elders" to contribute to that or try to change it. Thanks for commenting.

    Sandra--Ha! Thank you for highlighting this very important area of responsibility. Starting a sentence with "You make me feel so..." is a red flag. Thanks for your comment.


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