riffs & rants blog

Abdication Nation

Napoléon Bonaparte's abdication
Napoléon Bonaparte’s abdication (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Abdication is in style. If you don’t like something, just get rid of it. Someone piss you off on Facebook? Unfriend. See something unseemly on Twitter? Unfollow. A local business supporting a cause you don’t believe in? Stop going there. Don’t like dealing with a particular aspect of your life or business? Get someone else to do it.

It’s never been easier to abdicate, and occasionally, particularly when safety is at stake, abdication is the best course of action. But abdication can easily get addictive. Instead of grappling with the nuances of any given problem, it’s simpler and seemingly more easy to just throw them away.

This is where abdication makes us lazy. Instead of working through problems and examining our own role in creating them, it’s far more convenient to just cast them off as being someone else’s problem or responsibility.

What are we abdicating responsibility for anyway?

Abdicating responsibility for our feelings.

This is one of the most common form of abdication. People seem to be extremely sensitive nowadays. When someone says something that happens to upset you it is common to react by saying “that offends me! I demand an apology!”, or “you make me feel bad”. This constitutes abdicating responsibility for your own feelings. No one can “make” you think or feel or believe anything, that all comes from you. The reaction it causes is yours and yours alone.

If something offends you, so what? The world is not going to stop turning because your feelings have been hurt. People are going to say things that piss you off. The world will always be rife with things that piss you off.

To demand an apology for someone saying something you don’t agree with by insisting that it “made” you feel a certain way does absolutely nothing to change the situation, it just lets you off the hook for having to deal with those uncomfortable feelings in the first place.

Instead, take responsibility for the feelings, after all, they belong to you. If someone says something and you start to feel a certain way about it, you can do a few things, you can choose to either speak up about it or say nothing. Then you can make a deliberate choice to move on without letting it affect you or you can let it eat you alive.

Abdicating responsibility for your decisions.

Remember the “Nutella lawsuit”? A woman sued Ferrero, the company that makes Nutella because they advertised their product as “wholesome, healthy and perfect for a nutritious breakfast”. She claims she was misled after someone pointed out to her that Nutella is indeed full of sugar, fat and calories. It never occurred to her to read the label, especially after tasting it. Sure, the television ad concealed the sugar, fat and calorie content of the product. Lying by omission, that’s what television ads do. To find out this information, all she had to do was read the back of the jar. (For the record, Nutella has 100 calories per tablespoon, 6 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, and 10.5 grams of sugar).

In the end, both she and ultimately the courts, decided that she was not responsible for her decision to feed her kids Nutella and Ferrero was forced to pay up. An instance where abdicating responsibility for decisions can pay off financially, sadly.

Abdicating responsibility for your humanity.

Turning the other cheek. Looking the other way. Turning a blind eye. There are a thousand sayings to describe it: seeing something bad and doing nothing to stop it.

It happened at Penn State. An employee saw a child getting sexually abused in the shower and nothing was done about it at the moment it happened. Schools and organizations frequently abdicate responsibility when they get reports of teachers or leaders molesting children and respond by moving them to other schools or branches or quietly remove them, without criminal charges being filed.

Members of these groups abdicate responsibility by continuing to support such institutions and organizations in spite of evidence showing these atrocities are taking place.

Why do people do this? Because acknowledging painful facts is difficult, especially when they run counter to something you believe. It hurts to realize a place where you grew up or an institution you attended caused harm to another person.

We want to see the good in things and when bad stuff happens, we accomplish this typically by disowning the reality of the bad. So you direct your attention to the people and aspects of the group that haven’t caused the harm and say, “I’m one of the good guys” and ignore the bad guys in the group. It makes you feel better about the situation. But in the end, feeling better about something doesn’t change the reality of the situation or improve it.

I think this is why we see so much repetition in our problems. The adage says we repeat history because we do not learn from it. But I think it goes further than that. We repeat history, not because we do not see it happening again, but because we do not take the necessary action to stop it.

Abdicating responsibility, like most things that are bad for you, like smoking or overeating, feels good in the short-run. You get to avoid feeling angry or upset about something and put off dealing with the problem.

But we are seeing over and over, seeking short-term solutions does not help solve long-term problems. Abdicating responsibility is not bringing us any closer to solving anything. It’s just making us more whiny, more righteous and hell-bent on drawing lines in the sand instead dealing with the uncomfortable and solving real problems.

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