We often hear it asserted that most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility. — Bryan Magee
When employees would come to my grandfather to solve their crises at work, he was known to say, “Your bad planning is not my emergency.” That’s what he told me once when I was in a bad spot and went to him for advice. Lovingly, but firmly, he talked to me about the importance of taking responsibility for my life and actions. He counseled prudence in planning, gauging my limits better in taking on commitments, and in developing relationships. He said (as recorded in my June 1989 journal):
Lots of people I’ve known in my life, who are stretched thin by too much going on, are largely reaping the fruits of poor decisions. Haphazardly or poorly decided commitments. Poor time management. Little prioritizing in planning. We all make bad decisions, that’s life. The difference comes in what we do with our mistakes and failures. Do we recognize what we did wrong and what we can do better? Or do we simply retrench and try to gather support for our bad decisions?
When people who’ve made bad decisions come to me for sympathy, rather than advice, I’m sparing. But, if they’re open to it — and few are — I’m very generous in offering them a hard look at reality. Not with criticisms, but with hard questions for them to answer. Questions that help them assess how they got into their situation.
Look, this is how I have gotten through life myself. Thank God, I’ve had people who were willing to challenge me, helped me look hard reality in the face. That’s why I’m always quoting Socrates to you: “the unexamined life is not worth living.”
We talked through my own decision-making that had backed me into a corner, and then he said:
When things go bad, don’t look for commiserators. Look for counselors who have wisdom and will tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. Don’t complain, blame others, or feel sorry for yourself. And for god’s sake, don’t just give up. Instead, always begin by assessing what you could have done differently, get advice and then take the advice. Or expect the same results. And don’t come crying back to me! Unless you’re looking for a mirror.
…always avoid passive statements. Instead, use active ones. Never say, “How did I find myself in this situation? How did this happen to me? Why does this always happen to me?” That’s victim language. Instead, ask “How might I have allowed this to happen? What did I miss? What needs to change? What can I do differently next time?” Again, reach out for help, not sympathy. Take advice, don’t ignore it. Then see how it works. Only then you can improve. Otherwise, like a dog that returns to its vomit, you’ll just repeat history.