My Response is My Responsibility: Reviewing a Parable
Life is a word puzzle in real-time
I’ll have a music update later this week. Today, we’ll explore a parable on the human condition.
My friend, Mike, sent me a text yesterday morning. It included (with some edits) the following parable:
A man walks into a coffee shop and orders a cup of coffee. The Barista informs him their system is down and it's cash only. The total comes out to $3.08 and the man has a bunch of 20's and 3 ones.
He hands her the three ones and asks if she could give him some grace for the .$.08. She refuses pointing out that the "total is $3.08".
The man grumbles under his breath as he fishes out a 20 letting her know that he is a generous tipper and has even purchased gift cards for folks behind him in line.
This admission is greeted with a sarcastic laugh by the Barista who says "I don't know that you tip". The Barista victoriously accepts the $20 bill and hands a bunch of change back to the customer.
Is there anyone right or wrong in this parable?
Mike and I have known each other a long time. We have, on many occasions, had philosophical, metaphysical, and political conversations. I assumed this was one of those.
I answered with the following (with some edits):
Right/wrong... hmm... The barista should not have any sarcastic laugh. The man should not grumble for having to pay the full price. So.. they both suffer from some attitude issues.
The barista can, kindly, let the patron know.. "Sorry. I need to charge the full amount." The man, can also understand that breaking a $20 is not that challenging.
If I were the barista, I would have taken the $3. If I were the man with the 20's, I would have said, "No problem," and paid the $20 without grumbling. Here is my thought...
I am in charge of my conduct as either the barista or the man buying coffee.
I can't assume the barista has the authority to grace me $.08. I don't know the management style they work under and/or how often they are asked to give "grace" to a patron.
That said, even if under a withering amount of scrutiny by a bad manager, as the barista, I would have accepted the $3. Similarly, I would be fine breaking the $20.
In all of this, the focus is my conduct and reaction. It is why I kept a label/sticker on my laptop for years that said, "My response is my responsibility."
While on our morning walk I showed Deb Mike’s parable and my response.
She said, “Mike was the guy with the $20 bills.”
I told her that I hadn’t thought that. I figured Mike was giving me a thought exercise that he had read or something similar.
A minute or two later, Mike sent me:
Well, as you probably already deducted, I was that customer.
For me to assume that she can arbitrarily just award 8 cents was a bit ignorant of me and and they probably have to balance their registers at the end of the day. I think what drove my ire more than anything else was her sarcastic snickers and making me feel stupid but I might have had that coming.
Full Stop: Gut Check
Before you (the reader/anyone) decide to “side” with and/or chastise either Mike or the barista I offer this warning/disclaimer:
You’ve done the same/I’ve done the same. I’m not saying you were inflexible as a barista or unnecessarily annoyed as a customer.
But, you have, at a given moment, allowed your emotions cause you to be inflexible, uncaring, or dogmatic. In fact, not a given moment but, over a lifetime, several such moments. Very likely, more recently than you care to admit.
If you haven’t then, good for you, but we need to talk about your self-delusion or your dishonesty… your choice.
This past Christmas Eve, while picking up some makeup Deb had bought her mother, I watched a woman and the manager of the store trade some pretty aggressive Holiday Jeer!
I’m certain both were convinced that the other was responding horribly. From what I could see, they were both right. And dammit… ain’t it good to be right?
My Response is My Responsibility
I heard this phrase at a marriage conference/seminar. The marriage didn’t make it but the phrase hit me like a ton of bricks the moment I heard it.
It dovetails (and accentuates) what I wrote about in How To Be Unoffendable. That article is about boundaries and self-reflection. In truth, so is the phrase above.
You see, our behavior, good or bad, is NOT caused by anyone else. It is not contingent upon anyone else and their behavior. If we say, “You made me angry”, we have acquiesced control and responsibility to the other person.
Rather, you might say, “I became angry when I saw/experienced… X”. It is more than semantics. The second phrase puts the agency where it belongs.
Also, I’m not suggesting that you never become angry - just that your anger is yours to own. There may be a justifiable time to be angry or frustrated. However, more times than not, our anger and frustration is an ego response. Rarely are ego responses cause for anger.
Even when someone wrongs us or is uncaring or unaware… We tend to take such things personally. But, in truth, if someone is uncaring or unaware, that is their issue. They have to live with that.
I’m not required to.
I’ll respect you if…
There are odd memes and proclamations running around the Internet. I don’t understand many of them. For instance, those post that are clearly written to an individual but are, instead shared with obscurity but for public consumption - and likely for affirmation for the poster. They take the form of:
“Some people don’t understand how to treat others… even those who have always been there for them.”
These always elicit a lot of those hug emojis and a few comments extoling how great the poster is and how they’ve been treated so unfairly. That’s a chin-tugger for sure.
But, of the many memes I don’t understand, the ones that express something like the following are most curious to me.
First, it’s semantically inaccurate. You don’t respect someone because they respect you, you respect someone because they have performed an act or conducted themself in a manner you deem is worthy of respect.
I don’t respect someone because they respect me. I might appreciate someone who has respect for me. Hopefully I have behaved in a manner that warrants it.
What the meme should say - what people posting it likely mean is: “If you treat me respectfully, then I will treat you respectfully.”
However, this too indicates a contingency for decent behavior. In my opinion, a stronger (more confident, more self-aware) position: “I will treat people in a respectful and decent manner.”
Note the period.
That’s it - the sentence is over. Me treating someone in a respectful manner is NOT contingent upon their treatment of me. My conduct should driven by my belief that such behavior is the “right” behavior. It is the right behavior for me. It isn’t made right by the another person being respectful or decent.
Right behavior cannot be contingent? It is either “right” or it isn’t.
It also presents another challenge. If the other person holds the same, errant, perspective, each of you will, necessarily, be stuck waiting for the other to treat you with decency.
This reminds me of the Dr. Seuss story, The Zax, about a North-Going Zax and a South-Going Zax, who meet in the prairie of Prax (where else would Zax meet in Suess’ world?) and, because each refuses to budge to the East or West, end up standing there while the rest of society marches on around them.
But if treating people with decency or in a respectful manner is an internal boundary you establish for yourself, their lack of the same is meaningless. You are (or should be) bound only by your drive to behave consistent with what you believe to be right.
Then, when you run into a Zax, you can simply step to the left or right and allow them along their merry (or bitter) way.
Or, you can have a war, standing solidly on your “right” and your absolute knowledge that they didn’t respect you, so you won’t respect them.
It seems ineffective but those are the choices.
What about a-holes?
Yeah… we got those to deal with. And we have to work not to be one too. :-o
First, I believe in boundaries. I mean, I really believe in them.
Often, people position boundaries as, “I won’t let you treat me that way.”
What’s wrong about this? It incorrectly places the boundary as something you place on the other person. But boundaries, when practiced, are NOT about NOT allowing “them” to do ________ to you.
Rather, boundaries are (or should be) an internal compass.
“I don’t allow __________ in my life.”
I don’t need others to respect my boundaries. I need to respect my boundaries.
So, rather than saying:
“You can’t treat me this way!”
Try (both in thought and word):
“I don’t interact in this way. If we cannot interact in a more productive fashion, I need to end this interaction."
It is your boundary. You own it. You might articulate to someone but you are not under any obligation to. Of course, this might require that you extricate yourself from certain relationships and situations. Or it may require that you disallow certain people from your life and home.
This isn’t punitive or mean-spirited. It is simply establishing and maintaining your boundary - a boundary that is solely contingent upon you.
In Conclusion: My Response
The above parable was interesting to me. So interesting that immediately after our text exchange, I called Mike to discuss it.
I explained my perspective a little and situations that test my patience. These tend to be where I see intractability and a lack of caring coming from leadership.
We both admitted where we have often failed in this arena. We both recognize that we are intense individuals. Also, we reflected on the fact that we don’t know what kind of day, background, upbringing, or pressure those we meet along the way are dealing with. It is worth thinking about.
I told him of a time I lost my freakin’ mind on my son. It was recent… too recent. When I say, lost my mind, I went from zero to about 145% - angry and screaming like a lunatic. I’m not proud of this. Deb witnessed all of it and tried, initially failed, but eventually helped pull me back from my insanity.
I wrote Deb a song a couple years ago with this bridge:
I lose sight of the simple things
I spin and chase after everything
Find you there at the end of the day
Waiting for my sanity
Sheesh!! I’m not an easy person to contend with.
After Mike and I got off the phone, I sent him a link to a video that I had told him about during our phone conversation. It was a brief moment from a recent Los Angeles Rams news conference where coach Sean McVay discusses some personal failings during last year’s season. I was impressed with his willingness to call himself out… his willingness to take input from others.
It’s at about 6:45 in this clip, if you are interested. Watch about one minute of what he says. Note: I pasted the link at the 6:45 mark but do not know if it will start there. This link will, for sure.
I’m sharing my perspective and how I attempt to conduct myself and check myself. Your mileage may vary. Also, situations are situational. Don’t share why I’m wrong because you experienced, ___________.
Perhaps you did and perhaps your response was/is totally warranted. Unless we had a true heart-to-heart and I had more information to go on, it would be impossible for me to assess.
Oh.. and if you see Mike on the street… could you give him eight cents for me.
With love and gratitude,
January 9, 2024
P.S. Music is coming! Plus I’m playing live, first show in many months, on February 24th. More later.