In our philosophy club conversation last week, just after Myles expressed his new access to choice in the face of a constraining emotion, another student shared his opinion: “I disagree. I don’t think we can control our emotions.”
I told him that I didn’t mean to imply that we can control our immediate emotions; I don’t actually think we can control them. But I do think we absolutely have a choice in how we respond to our emotions - and to me, this is freedom.
In To Live in This Moment, Unconstrained, I wrote about an activity that I completed as part of a workshop 16 years ago. Through that exercise, I stepped into a new space in life that a friend named radical responsibility.
Responsibility can feel heavy. It can suggest obligation, expectation, work, and seriousness. But in the context of radical responsibility, the word takes on a new meaning for me: the capacity to respond without constraint.
As we live our lives, we think we’re experiencing raw reality. However, we do not perceive reality as it is; we perceive reality that’s been filtered through our thinking. Even our emotions typically arise as a result of our thinking. This veiled experience, so subtly filtered through judgments, beliefs, and memories, feels like “the way things really are.” But it’s not.
Responsibility is NOT about controlling triggered emotions or thoughts that arise to filter our perspective; that may in fact not be possible. Rather, responsibility is being aware, creative, and at choice in how we respond to these emotions and thoughts that inevitably arise in our experience.
Radical responsibility is taking the perspective that at our core we are unbreakable, untarnishable, and whole, and while stuff happens around me and to me, my well-being needn’t be at the effect of any of it. It’s on me to shift my thinking, to transform my emotions, and to take actions consistent with my well-being. No one else can do that for me.
Radical responsibility begins by being willing - willing to take ownership of my experience, willing to take ownership of what happens next. Radical responsibility isn't necessarily the truth, but it is a place to come from and a lens to look through.
It might sound daunting or disconcerting, but it’s actually profoundly liberating. Radical responsibility is moving from the passenger seat into the driver’s seat of our experience.
Quick tip - if you’re having a passenger seat experience that you’d rather not have and you’re interested in moving into the driver’s seat, ask yourself the question that always delivers: what am I avoiding being responsible for?
Thanks for hanging with me through this post. I hope you have a great day. ❤️
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