A person sits on a rock. S/he says, “Wow, this rock really hurts my ass. It’s pointy, unstable, rough, and generally uncomfortable.” Another person comes along and asks him/her this question: “Is it that the rock is hard, or that your ass is soft?”
This question of the hard rock or the soft ass is a way of re-framing our personal experience around the idea of 100% responsibility. If we believe that the rock is the cause of the painful/hard/pointy/unstable experience, we have given ownership of our experience away to an external locus of control. Therefore, rock is perpetrator, I am victim. If we recognize that our ass is soft, yielding, tender, and sensitive, then we own by understanding our subjective experience of the rock one-hundred percent. In one sense, all the qualities we assign to the rock are basically true. Yes, it is pointy, sharp, jagged, and uneven. This is its nature according to our senses, not an arbitrary choice. The rock is not changing. The only thing I can choose to change is my own understanding of the nature of the rock in relationship to my ass. In taking 100% ownership of the experience, we are able to shift by re-observing our beliefs / assumptions / perspective. Believing the hardness of the rock is the problem, we give over our ability to change the situation to a world in which the rock (aka Villain) is always going to be the perpetrator. In that world, we either cultivate resentment (Victim) towards a rock that will never change, or lose continually against a rock that remains pointy. We can also lead a crusade against “Hard Rocks!” (Rescuer) In recognizing the nature of our soft ass, we open up our own ability to relate and communicate differently.
People vs. Rocks
If we translate the word ‘rock/perpetrator’ to ‘other human beings’ then we start to see the difficulty of engaging with 100% responsibility. Is the other person pointy, annoying, off-putting, cruel, wicked, the obvious villain… or am I sensitive, unbalanced, upset, challenged, afraid, the innocent victim? Is the other person hurting me or am I choosing to experience pain? Are they the perpetrator and am I the victim?
Warning: extreme example follows in order to illustrate a point.
The answer to these questions is, most likely, both. If a person punches me, then they are hurting me and I choose to label it as an experience of pain. I wouldn’t be spontaneously experiencing pain without their fist colliding with me. In this, we might say that certain situations have no choice in them, like instinctual body-responses including pain. We might say no matter what if someone hits me, I will feel pain.
We could get abstract here and make a solid argument about how pain is still a neurological process that one can control (i.e., monastic practices in which seemingly impossible control is gained over pain receptors) and similarly we could make an argument here about whether pain is bad (i.e., sadomasochistic sexual practices that involve the deliberate inflicting of pain as a source of erotic joy; or, the pain of certain ‘normal’ sexual practices, and work-out/body-conditioning practices [no pain, no gain].)
We could make a potentially less abstract argument (as not everyone need aspire to be a sadomasochist or a sensory-controlling monk), and say that 100% responsibility invites us to reflect on what the pain is, what the label offers us, where the pain comes from, and what I do with the pain. I can say that you punched me, and that made me hurt; I can also say that my nervous system registered pain to me when I encountered your fist. In thinking through the second way, the soft-ass way, I unavoidably check-in with myself: what is going on for my body, my mind, my emotional register? In the first way of being, I’m in Reactive Brain, focused on you: what you did, how you function, what you were thinking.
In focusing on you as a default beginning step I’m the victim, because I lack your self-knowledge. My understanding of you is based on guesses, assumptions and evaluations: and if you just punched me, it’s highly likely that those evaluations and judgments are coming from an off-balance place (Jackal mentality). If I’m focused on your behavior, my own choices for going forward are also limited – as I’m concentrating on what I’d like you to do in order to feel I am no longer the victim.
In focusing on myself as a default beginning step, I’m free of being a victim; because I can check-in with myself and get answers to all my questions: what am I feeling? What does this event bring up for me? How can I go forward? What are my choices?
Similarly, in focusing on my soft ass, I gain the ability to choose my reaction, because I label my reaction as a choice. If I get punched, and see my experience of pain with anger as a choice among a plethora of ways to experience pain (with joy, with sadness, with confusion, with gratitude) then I also enable myself to choose differently. Yes, the gap between getting hit and feeling anger and getting hit and feeling joy is a large one, and the distance between the two is measured only in our willingness to be open to choosing differently.
If I leave off with this extreme example of punching, and substitute in a more neutral term of ‘getting feedback,’ we can see how choosing and reactions are more up for grabs. When I get ‘negative’ feedback about my job performance, I may experience it as a punch in the stomach and get angry, and in owning that this is my reaction to that feedback, I also acknowledge that there is a way to choose differently. There is a path, and one not too far away, where I can receive the feedback with joy, love and humility. Getting from a (metaphoric or literal) punch in the stomach to joy and humility involves first, owning that both reactions are possibilities that I can choose, and then secondly, examining what in you predisposes you to choose one over the other (i.e., if you’re experiencing it with sadness/pain, what needs are going unmet in you? if you’re experiencing it with joy/love, what does the feedback feed/awake/enliven in you?)
Overall, the more I focus on the perceived external actions of the other person (i.e., s/he’s mean) the LESS choice I perceive I have in the situation; the more I commit myself to a static (and losing) way of being. The more ownership I take of my emotions/reactions (i.e., I’m upset) the MORE choice I have to choose something different; the more I commit myself to a dynamic (and winning) way of being.
Self Empathy (Owning the Soft Ass)
1) What am I feeling?
2) What needs in me are going met/unmet?
3) What strategies do I have in place to meet those needs?
4) How are those strategies failing in this moment?
5) What are my other choices?
6) How can I bring those choices to life?
Taking 100% Responsibility is a form of self love.
Undoing enemy image (Reframing the Hard Rock to Soft-Ass mentality)
1) What was their action? [observation not evaluation]
2) What intents am I ASSUMING behind that action? [disjoin evaluation from observation]
3) What other intents could be behind that action? [think of other possible evaluations (broadening)]
4) What needs are they trying to meet through those actions? [role-reversal / empathy]
5) Where can I meet those needs with love? [recognition of universal humanity]
6) What choices can I make to change how this relationship looks? [self-empowerment / soft-ass]