You Are Responsible

From Dr. M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled.

…Almost all of us from time to time seek to avoid—in ways that can be quite subtle—the pain of assuming responsibility for our own problems.  For the cure of my own subtle character disorder at the age of thirty I am indebted to Mac Badgely.  At the time Mac was the director of the outpatient psychiatric clinic where I was completing my psychiatry residency training.  In this clinic my fellow residents and I were assigned new patients on rotation.  Perhaps because I was more dedicated to my patients and my own education than most of my fellow residents, I found myself working much longer hours than they.  They ordinarily saw patients only once a week.  I often saw my patients two or three times a week.  As a result I would watch my fellow residents leaving the clinic at four-thirty each afternoon for their homes, while I was scheduled with appointments up to eight or nine o’clock at night, and my heart was filled with resentment.  As I became more and more resentful and more and more exhausted I realized that something had to be done.  So I went to Dr. Badgely and explained the situation to him.  I wondered whether I might be exempted from the rotation of accepting new patients for a few weeks so that I might have time to catch up.  Did he think that was feasible?  Or could he think of some other solution to the problem?  Mac listened to me very intently and receptively, not interrupting once.  When I was finished, after a moment’s silence, he said to me very sympathetically, “Well, I can see that you do have a problem.”

I beamed, feeling understood.  “Thank you,” I said.  “What do you think should be done about it?”

To this Mac replied, “I told you, Scott, you do have a problem.”

This was hardly the response I expected.  “Yes,” I said, slightly annoyed, “I know I have a problem.  That’s why I came to see you.  What do you think I ought to do about it?”

Mac responded: “Scott, apparently you haven’t listened to what I said.  I have heard you, and I am agreeing with you.  You do have a problem.”

“Goddammit,” I said.  “I know I have a problem.  I knew that when I came in here.  The question is, what am I going to do about it?”

“Scott,” Mac replied, “I want you to listen.  Listen closely and I will say it again.  I agree with you.  You do have a problem.  Specifically, you have a problem with time.  Your time.  Not my time.  It’s not my problem.  It’s your problem with your time.  You, Scott Peck, have a problem with your time.  That’s all I’m going to say about it.”

I turned and strode out of Mac’s office, furious.  And I stayed furious. I hated Mac Badgely.  For three months I hated him.  I felt that he had a severe character disorder.  How else could he be so callous?  Here I had gone to him humbly asking for just a little bit of help, a little bit of advice, and the bastard wasn’t even willing to assume enough responsibility even to try to help me, even to do his job as director of the clinic.  If he wasn’t supposed to help manage such problems as director of the clinic, what the hell was he supposed to do?

But after three months I somehow came to see that Mac was right, that it was I, not he, who had the character disorder.  My time was my responsibility.  It was up to me and me alone to decide how I wanted to use and order my time.  If I wanted to invest my time more heavily than my fellow residents in my work, then that was my choice, and the consequences of that choice were my responsibility.  It might be painful for me to watch my fellow residents leave their offices two or three hours before me, and it might be painful to listen to my wife’s complaints that I was not devoting myself sufficiently to the family, but these pains were the consequence of a choice that I had made.  If I did not want to suffer them, then I was free to choose not to work so hard and to structure my time differently.  My working hard was not a burden cast upon me by hardhearted fate or a hardhearted clinic director; it was the way I had chosen to live my life and order my priorities.  As it happened, I chose not to change my life style.  But with my change in attitude, my resentment of my fellow residents vanished.  It simply no longer made any sense to resent them for having chosen a life style different from mine when I was completely free to choose to be like them if I wanted to.  To resent them was to resent my own choice to be different from them, a choice that I was happy with.

Sound familiar?

[Post image: Responsibility by hollowed on stock.xchng]


  1. kelly g.
    Jul 26, 2011

    100% familiar. I will think of this when I wake up in the early hours of the morning unable to get back to sleep because of all the to-do’s running through my head. And I will think of this as I recite (to anyone who will listen) the litany of activities and lessons I have to juggle with three kids. The to-do’s and all those activities = busy…a word I have come to strongly dislike. Sure, we are just that–busy and sure, there are days I can’t figure out how to get the kids all the places they need to be but it seems false to me in many ways. It’s a busy we (meaning I) created and now that we are in the thick of it, do I really have the right to complain about being in the thick of it! I wonder–how I got to this point and what will the take-home message be for my kids? Do I use the word “busy” as a title? One I have bestowed upon myself to feel more worth or value? Painful to admit but that’s quite possible. And in the end will my kids ever know what it’s like to slow down, take in the moment, let their imaginations run wild, create, sit, breath? Ahhh..I DO have a problem. A problem I created. My choice, my consequences, my responsibility.
    Thanks my friend. Love to you.

  2. Elissa
    Jul 26, 2011

    Oh heavens, girlfriend. You’re not alone. I think about this constantly. How I’ve “wrecked” my own life with my own silly decisions. LOL. And then I have to breathe and start excising what’s not important (or what’s causing harm). Why does it seem like a daily thing, though?! 🙂

    Thank you for letting ME know I’m not alone. xo

  3. Allison
    Jul 26, 2011


    (and thank you for the reminder, I can identify with it being a daily thing too)

  4. Don Rogers
    Jul 26, 2011

    Found my self in that position more times than I care to count as an educator. Of course that was BJ – before the journey. I do see things differently now and am learning to accept responsibility for my actions as never before.

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The quote I live by

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.
--Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet

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