The Meditations begins with a section called “Debts and Lessons.”
In it, Marcus Aurelius is thanking and recounting what he learned from the people in his life. When he talks about his adopted father, he writes these three sentences:
“His constant devotion to the empire’s needs. His stewardship of the treasury. His willingness to take responsibility—and blame—for both.”
If you take responsibility, you also take the blame.
As much as it pains me to say it, this isn’t a common approach. Most people don’t want to take responsibility. Because if they do that, it also means taking the blame.
People want to associate with their success, but flee their failures.
But that’s not how it works. You can’t have the upside without the risk of the downside. This is something Nassim Taleb calls skin in the game. There should be no benefit unless you’re also exposed to risk. You can’t take responsibility whilst not taking the blame.
This risk, having to take the blame, is why no one takes responsibility. In adversity, it’s easier to palm everything off and claim none of it is your fault. It’s less scary to put your hands up and say, “I’ve got nothing to do with it.”
But the time that we’re most unlikely to take responsibility for our situation—when we’re at rock bottom—is also the time when we most need to. Only by claiming ownership of all your mistakes, missteps and fuck ups can you begin to rebuild. But to claim ownership means admitting, to yourself and others, that you messed up. That you are in the wrong. That your situation is a little bit your fault.
So it doesn’t happen. We whine and moan and complain and lament. We wish for this or that without actually doing anything that would swing the odds of it happening in our favor.
I don’t know about you, but to me, a life without responsibility can hardly be called a life. You could call it survival or scraping through, yes. But is that your ambition in life? To survive? To get by? It’s not mine. I want to thrive. I want to do good and be better.
But to do that we have to take responsibility, and the blame, that comes along with it.