Have you been asked, "Who said you could do that?" Ask yourself how many times this has happened to you. You’ve just decided that you’re going to take some kind of action. It probably won’t fall within agreement with some of the other people involved. You announce what you’re going to do and someone asks you why you’re going to do it. You convey your reason and the other person proceeds to shred your reasoning convincing you that it’s not a valid premise for your choice. Not only do you begin to doubt yourself but now you feel obligated to concede to your interrogator’s preferences and refrain from acting on your own decision.
With our western culture having grown into being so technical, scientific and materialistic we have slowly fallen into the need of having a reason or justification for everything that we do. We find ourselves making excuses and apologizing for acting in our own interest while others accuse us of stepping on their toes or not doing things in a “reasonable” way; reasonable translating to their benefit. Why have we allowed ourselves to become so self-effacing and deferent? We now consider it politically correct to defer to others before we service ourselves. And even there, we must now be board certified, licensed, validated, approved, screwed, glued and tattooed. Why is it now so important to gain approval from others? Where did this mandatory deference come from? The answer is, you guessed it, our childhood programming. Think I’m wrong? Remember all the way back to grammar school where we heard, “If you didn’t bring enough to share with everyone else in the class, you’re not allowed to have any yourself.” And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Since our culture is devoid of any tangible Rights of Passage, we remain stuck in our childhood personas still needing permission from our parents (transferred to those we give over our authority to in adulthood) to do anything. We have not “put away childish things.” They linger like an infectious undercurrent sabotaging any heartfelt urgings that contradict the needs of our families and surrounding peer groups.
This kind of head space we find ourselves in, that is in conceding to external “validation”, comes back at us through many different expressions, all challenging the personal authority and Self-Trust of our own adequacy that we’ve earned through our own personal experience giving us license to decide things for ourselves. The following expressions are just a few of the things we hear thrown at us creating a self-staining tailspin while bringing us under the judgment of those who feel just as little personal authority and Self-Trust as we are allowed to. Literally, we are the blind led by the blind.
- “What’s your reasoning behind your decision?” – Aside from plain curiosity, this usually is indicative of someone wanting to have some say over what we do. This could either come from their need to confirm their own beliefs or to maneuver us and our decision into a perspective that’s beneficial mostly to them.
- “What’s the meaning of this?” – This statement is a bit more aggressive and attempts to assert a measure of authority over us. Its most commonly heard in career and work environments which are more forgiving to an attempted dominance assertion due to it being a work environment and under the leadership and authority we accept as being appropriate there.
- “What were you thinking?” – Asserts the same type of authority as number two but from a more personal and familiar perspective. We most often hear this coming from family members who are either honestly concerned about our choices or who are attempting to undermine or coerce us over to their way of thinking in order to put themselves in a superior family position. In this position they are more able to expect obedience of other family members…including us. This could also be applied to siblings attempting to usurp parental influence.
- “How could you…(do that to me)?” – This statement is even more familiar and aggressive than number two or three. It usually involves a more intimate connection with us thereby implying some sort of agreement or obligation that we are assumed to have betrayed. The accuser can then expect us to become subservient or penitent after our acceptance of responsibility for our “transgression.”
- “You ought to be ashamed of yourself” – This statement aligns with “How could you” but from a more general perspective. It not only implies an obligation that must be atoned for but also partially removes our accuser’s accountability for its application. If they are confronted, they simply reply citing generally accepted values and moral set in place by other than our accusers that they believe that we will also adhere to.
- “Who said you could?” – This statement is also very aggressive and aligns our accuser with the prevailing authority. If we accept their alignment, it is assumed by them that we will concede to their desires, expectations and opinions. This is, again, another “power play.”
- “How could you be so stupid?” or “What were you thinking?” – This is also very aggressive but most often comes from either a parent or someone we have allowed to have authority over us (or someone we have selected as a parental surrogate after leaving our family). Remember, it’s human nature to seek to replace our family and environments with something or someone we’re used to or accustomed to. Even if they are hurtful to us in the long run, we most often seek the familiar; feeling we will know how to handle it.
All of these statements, and I’m sure there are many more variations, imply our submitting to a level of acceptance judged by others coupled with an abdication of our innate right to think, feel and act pursuant to our own heart and desires. Accepting their premise submits to an almost completely tacit agreement that we owe a “validatable” explanation or excuse to someone else for doing things that benefit us but might run contrary to their preferences, or in other words, receive their permission.
We have fallen into a trap of pursuing personal excellence based on the values and preferences of others. We have an urgent need to begin listening to our own heart and to give ourselves permission to make our own decisions based on our own personal experience. Yet, our childhood habit of waiting or seeking external approval trumps all the efforts we can put into personal motivations that benefit only ourselves. By accepting external dominance we have, essentially, given away our power. But that is only the obvious tip of the iceberg. There is a reason that goes much deeper than that. When we allow external values to dictate what we will permit ourselves to do, we unconsciously abdicate our accountability for the decisions that we make. This exonerates us from any blame. Our deepest contemporary fear is being found at fault and having our personally believed inadequacy become exposed for the entire world to see. Our deepest need is to cast aside blame and avoid deeper scrutiny thereby avoiding exposure. This is why our fascination with super heroes is such a dominant theme in our envy of them.
External authority and blame are paradoxical bed partners. They feed off each other for their survival. Without one, the other dies. If we don’t accept external authority, blame has no place or meaning in our lives. If we don’t accept blame, external authority has no power over us. The best way to obliterate both is to accept and become our own authority through becoming self-accountable for our own lives and decisions according to our own hearts. We’re no longer shown or taught how to do that at home or in school. We are in desperate need of a revitalization of the inner wisdom which we all have. Our current western cultural perspective about accountability is that it has become all about placing blame. We can never achieve peace of any kind until this dynamic is disarmed and discarded.