As I turn towards a new year, and the evolution of my own work, I am bringing more of my attention to the idea of radical responsibility. Radical responsibility is the centerpiece of the couple’s work that Samantha and I facilitate. It is a stance that refuses to blame. It means turning toward conflict with a very specific question: how am I responsible for the situation?
Every single time we talk about radical responsibility we have to make the disclaimer that of course people do bad things to people. That we know we live in a culture that reproduces specific patterns of oppression. That some are more vulnerable than others.
All of this we know to be true.
But we also know something about the Drama Triangle. It explains the codependency trap: Victim. Rescuer. Prosecutor. This is how we assign roles when we come together. We engage our culture and our politics by continually identifying the victim, the rescuer and the prosecutor. We ourselves get a certain payoff by identifying as victim or rescuer. We rock these identities. We fall into the trap.
Radical responsibility seeks to honor the resilience, power and grace of our ancestors. It says: terrible things happened to us, terrible things happening even now, but we are still here. And we did not get here by chance. We bring our attention to each and every way in which we hold power. We seize on every prayer and every lesson that has been passed down by our ancestors. And we honor them with our courage and our strength.
I see radical responsibility as an antidote to the fragility that defines too many of our spaces today. It shifts our attention from all the ways in which we have been hurt and towards all the ways in which we remain strong.
This is not a stance against healing. Or against safe spaces where people can process trauma, anger and heartache. But it is an invitation to more intentionally define alternative spaces, brave spaces. Spaces where we can practice something different. It is an invitation to practice ways of being freer and stronger together.
Here we call on the healing power of Grace.
Grace is the corollary of radical responsibility. Once you decide that you don’t want to live by righteously blaming others. Once you understand that your freedom cannot hinge on how someone else feels or thinks. That’s when Grace becomes the antidote.
I appreciate the way Jonathan Rauch defines Grace from the perspective of a nonbeliever.
Some combination of generosity and magnanimity, kindness and forgiveness, and empathy — all above the ordinary call of duty, and bestowed even (or especially?) when not particularly earned… regardless of the context, it’s always at least a little unexpected and out of the ordinary.
Grace is not just a blessing for those who have done something wrong. Or those who have not yet learned something that they are here to learn. It isn’t just a magnanimous gift we bestow. Grace is strength because it defines those of us who live by it. Grace is strength because it makes us happy, wise, and evermore free.
As Peter Wehner puts it:
If you find yourself in the company of people whose hearts have been captured by grace, count yourself lucky. They love us despite our messy lives, stay connected to us through our struggles, always holding out the hope of redemption. When relationships are broken… it’s grace that causes people not to give up, to extend the invitation to reconnect, to work through misunderstandings with sensitivity and transparency.
You don’t sense hard edges, dogmatism or self-righteous judgment from gracious people. There’s a tenderness about them that opens doors that had previously been bolted shut. People who have been transformed by grace have a special place in their hearts for those living in the shadows of society. They’re easily moved by stories of suffering and step into the breach to heal. And grace properly understood always produces gratitude.
This is who we can become. It is too easy to scream and be frustrated at all the things that are wrong. There are lot of them. It is harder, but much more rewarding, to live a life of radical responsibility led by the transformative power of Grace.