“I had the opportunity and the information and I failed to make use of it. I don’t know what an inquest or a court of law would say, but I stand condemned in the court of my own conscience to be guilty of not preventing the Columbia disaster… The bottom line is that I failed to understand what I was being told; I failed to stand up and be counted. Therefore look no further; I am guilty of allowing the Columbia to crash.” (N. Wayne Hale Jr., Launch Integration Manager)
One of the most admirable qualities of creditable people is their ability to take full responsibility for their actions. In the immediate aftermath of a failure, perhaps the only step a person can take to restore some confidence in the short term is to man-up or woman-up. While rebuilding trust takes consistent behavior over time, nothing else will initially increase your credibility more than stepping up to the plate, taking ownership, and accepting the consequences of your actions.
On the other hand, nothing will continue to erode your credibility more than making excuses, blame shifting, or rationalizing. Consider the following vindication methods commonly used:
- Highlighting unusual circumstances.
- Pointing out the failures of others.
- Appealing to human weakness.
- Claiming ignorance or incompetence.
- Downplaying or minimizing the seriousness of the offense.
What is our motive here? We are seeking to justify our actions by convincing others that any normal person, given the exact same set of circumstances, would have acted the same way. We appeal to logic, reason, emotion or whatever it takes to give our failure “context,” to lessen our culpability, and to maintain the illusion that we are good people.
This is what psychologists call “cognitive dissonance.” Since it is impossible for us to hold on to two conflicting truths at the same time, our brains must search for explanations. Our brain says, “How could such a smart, responsible, good, moral person like me do something so bad, mindless, or thoughtless? There must be an acceptable reason!”
Instead of allowing our subconscious to bridge the divide with self-deceptive rationalizations, maybe we should consciously challenge the assumption that we’re such good, moral people after all.
It is human nature to run, hide, and blame others when our sins have been exposed. Consider the actions of the first human, Adam, who blamed his wife and ultimately God. However, we need to resist this urge to protect ourselves. Instead of offering up a defense for our actions, we need to focus on bringing healing to the pain our actions have caused others. This starts with firing our inner lawyer, admitting guilt, and humbly asking for mercy and a chance to change.
How this helps others.
It gives others hope that it won’t happen again.
When we blame circumstances or other people for what we did, it gives those we have hurt no assurance that it won’t happen again. What if similar circumstances arise in the future? Will it “force” us to make the same choice? What if another person comes along which “makes” us commit the same action?
“You don’t understand, honey! She was all over me! By the time I even realized what was happening, we had already crossed the line. I’m really sorry, but after a few drinks, I just didn’t have the presence of mind to say no. I would never have cheated on you if she hadn’t been so forward and provocative and if Bob hadn’t bought me that extra drink!”
I don’t need to tell you that this explanation will do nothing to instill this woman’s confidence in her husband. .
In order to rebuild trust, our friends and loved ones need to know that we have changed on the inside. They need to be confident that, given the exact same set of circumstances, next time, we will choose to do the right thing. The first way we can help instill this conviction is to completely man-up for our actions without blaming others.
It lets others know that we “get it.”
The people your actions have hurt want to know that you empathize with their pain–pain that your choices have caused. To minimize, rationalize, or excuse what you did makes them feel unheard and renders their pain illegitimate. To chalk up your actions to a “mistake” dehumanizes and depersonalizes what you did to them. Spilling coffee on your shirt is a “mistake.” What you did is different. They want you to know that this is serious and that you understand the amount of trauma you have caused and that you are sorry.
This is not to punish you for your actions, but it is to help them process their pain and to begin the journey of healing. Ultimately, their healing can never be placed in your hands. I believe that, with the right help and with time, they can heal with or without your cooperation. However, if you’re serious about doing all that you can do to help those you have hurt, then you will expedite their healing journey by letting them know that you “get it.” You understand that you were wrong and that you really hurt them badly.
It gives others the opportunity to forgive.
There are many opinions and myths surrounding the topic of forgiveness. I have my own ideas, but I won’t get into them here. Suffice it to say that it’s very hard, if not impossible, to forgive someone who doesn’t think they did anything wrong. Trying to forgive someone who is not genuinely sorry is like trying to push a piece of spaghetti.
How can you expect others to “move on” or “get over” what you did when you have failed to man-up, face the music, and acknowledge what you have done? I think most people want to forgive others and be restored to those who have wronged them. However, the offender’s obstinacy, pride, arrogance, and unrepentance often make it impossible.
Again, some will disagree, but I believe that forgiveness is a two-way transaction. It involves one party (the offender) agreeing that they were wrong, and it involves the other party (the offended) promising to not hold on to that wrong in a hurtful, vengeful, way.
Some people will refuse to forgive no matter what and they will hang on to anger, bitterness, and resentment until they die. That’s on them. However, genuine sorrow and repentance are on you and the best way you can help others be free from those negative feelings is to completely and entirely man-up and say, “This is all on me. No one made me do it. Nothing caused me to do it. I have absolutely no one to blame but myself. I am sorry. Please forgive me.” They may choose to forgive you or not. But you owe it to them to at least give them the opportunity to forgive you if they want to.
How this helps you.
It’s hard and painful to man-up. That’s why it’s called “man-up” and not “boy-up.” It’s natural to want to avoid it. Human beings tend to shy away from experiences that bring them pain and they move toward experiences that bring them pleasure. Maybe that’s how you got into this mess. I hope you have learned that sometimes experiences which promise an intense amount of pleasure can also bring a tremendous amount of pain.
The opposite is true as well. Sometimes experiences which seem painful can actually bring joy. Taking responsibility for one’s failures is one of those experiences. Yes, it is very painful to man-up. It is extremely difficult to take full and complete responsibility for what you have done, especially when you fully comprehend and see the pain that you have caused others.
In my situation, when I manned-up to infidelity, I was unprepared for how emotionally painful it was to acknowledge that I was the sole cause of the worst pain that the most beloved person to me in the world had ever felt. Her worst pain was all my fault. That cuts deep.
It’s also painful to admit to a lifestyle of hypocrisy and deceit. It’s painful to admit to manipulating and misleading people who love you. It’s painful to lose your reputation and your public image. It’s painful to lose people’s respect and trust. No wonder we want to do all we can to avoid this pain by shifting the blame, offering excuses, or by looking for reasonable logical explanations for our “slips” or momentary “lapses in judgment.”
But as painful as manning-up is, it’s not nearly as painful as trying to maintain your innocence, preserve your facade, and protect yourself from the consequences of your sin. There is great joy, freedom, and peace of mind to be found in owning up to what you have done.
It frees us.
Full and complete confession frees us from the exhausting toil of defending ourselves. Once you have “come clean” and you have accepted your guilt, you no longer need a defense. When you acknowledge that you were really really bad, the brain no longer has to figure out how to justify your actions. The dissonance disappears and the inner contradiction goes away. Consonance and clarity come because it makes rational sense to our inner-selves that a self-serving person would do such a self-serving thing.
Once the facade comes down, you will find great freedom in being real. Most people will never know what it is to live life with no pretense and no mask. It’s actually very liberating to live with a “this-is-who-I-am-warts-and-all” kind of honesty. I have come to value authenticity over perfection and I wouldn’t have it any other way. As Rhett Butler says, “Until you’ve lost your reputation, you never realize what a burden it was or what freedom really is.”
Manning-up was not really as painful as I thought it would be. I used to fear that if people got to know the “real me” then they wouldn’t really like me. Therefore, my life was consumed with protecting myself and my image so that people would like me. However, when my sins were on display for all to see, and when my closest friends and family finally got to see the ugly truth of the real me, they not only still liked me, but they loved me anyway! That’s freedom.
As a believer in Jesus, the only defense I have is in his death and resurrection.
Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You…
Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where is grace is found is where You are
And where You are, Lord, I am free
Holiness is Christ in me
I sing this song to myself during times when I am feeling particularly low. He bore all my guilt, my shame, and my sins and he paid for them so that I might be free.
Freedom is not found in denying my sins, but in acknowledging them for what they are and in allowing the blood of Jesus to wash them. My conscience may at times still accuse me. Other people may still accuse me. Satan certainly still accuses me. However, before God’s throne, I have an advocate whose wounds plead my cause and they cry out, “Forgive him.” I need no other argument. I need no other plea. It is enough that Jesus died and that he died for me.
I realize that not everyone who reads this believes this or has this, but My faith gives me freedom.
It empowers us.
Accepting full and complete responsibility for one’s actions demonstrates that he or she is not a victim of circumstance. No one made me do what I did. No one put a gun to my head. No one had power over me to make me do anything that I did not want to do.
I refuse to live my life with a victim mentality. I will not be a weak, passive observer that life just happens to. I did not fatefully slip on a banana peel and fall down one day. I actually drove to the store, bought a banana, peeled it, ate it, threw the peel on the ground, and walked over it time and time again until I finally slipped on it and fell down. Not only that, but I got up and did it again, and again, and again. I did that all on my own. I find nothing empowering about saying, “But you don’t understand! I couldn’t help myself! I slipped and fell. I was under a lot of stress at the time!”
Accepting this level of culpability is empowering. If I can’t take responsibility for my past then I can’t take responsibility for my future. If my past is the result of circumstances that were outside of my control, then I have to agree that the same is true of my future. I am not willing to give anyone that level of control over my life and future.
The only other person who has any control over my life is God. I genuinely believe that my life (past, present, and future) is in the hands of a sovereign God. I believe he guides all my steps and missteps. However, I can’t blame him. The book of Proverbs says, “People ruin their lives by their own foolishness, and then they are angry at the Lord!”
Ultimately, God is sovereign and God does allow (and design) trials, stressful situations, and difficult personal encounters to make us stronger. However, when we fail due to our own foolishness and we end up wrecking our lives, that is all on us!
The book of James says,
“Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” (James 1:13-14)
We cannot blame the circumstances that God allows, the situations that God designs, the sicknesses that God brings, or the trials that God sends. When we sin, we cannot charge God with wrongdoing. Our sin is our own fault.
I recognize that this article has gotten a little preachy, but hear me out. The truth is that our sin does not come from outside of us, but it comes from within us, from our own human fleshly desires. Our fallen nature wants to be pleased, wants to feel good, wants to be made much of, or feel important, or get buzzed, or have its ego stroked, or have something that God has said ‘no’ to, or it wants that which belongs to someone else, or fill-in-the-blank—it starts with human fleshly desire.
And so our desire starts to court our will. It entices us. It seduces us. It lures us. Again, the external person or situation is not who or what is luring and enticing our will—our own desire is enticing our will. The circumstance or that person is only providing the occasion for our desires to act out. It’s not making them act out. And the moment we give in, and our will hooks up with our desire, that’s when sin is conceived.
Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:15)
Sin, if allowed to grow up, brings death. Sin kills. Sin separates. Sin hurts. Sin divides. When we blame God and the circumstances that He has allowed us to go through to be the cause of our sin, then we are essentially blaming God for death and destruction, pain and division. We are blaming God for the hurt that our sin has caused.
On the other hand, when we take responsibility for our own foolishness it empowers us. We acknowledge that we are not puppets of fate, nor are we slaves to circumstances or desires that are outside of our control. We have the freedom to choose right or wrong and while we may have chosen wrongly in the past, we have the ability to learn from our actions and the power to make better choices in the future.
It gives us hope for change.
Manning-up and taking ownership of our failures can give us hope for change. We don’t have to repeat the same deadly hurtful cycle.
We can’t change the people we blame, but we can change ourselves. We can’t change our circumstances, but we can change how we respond. We can’t outlaw internet pornography, but we can change what we look at. We can’t enforce the workplace dress codes, but we can control where we let our minds go. We can’t avoid overnight work trips away from our spouses, but we can establish boundaries. Sometimes we can’t even help developing a normal attraction to someone who is kind to us, but we can be honest about it and share our developing attraction with our spouse who can help us work through our feelings in an appropriate way.
We can’t change the world we live in, so quit blaming the world you live in. We can’t change the fact that an old flame contacted us on facebook. We can’t change the fact that we spend 40 hours of our week with women other than our wives. We can’t change the fact that sometimes our spouse really does have a headache. However, we can change our behavior because we understand that our behavior is not contingent on others, or on our circumstances, but on the health of our hearts.
“What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:20-23)
Our actions come from our heart, not from others. Our actions come from our heart, not from our circumstances. The things that we do that defile ourselves and others do not come from our society, from our temptations, from our computers, coworkers, confidantes, or compadres. The things that we do come from our heart. This gives us hope because we CAN change! This means that our actions can change and our lives can change!
Are you ready to man-up or woman-up? Are you ready to take full responsibility for what you have done, without blame shifting, rationalizing, or making excuses? I would encourage you to face your fears, step up to the plate, own up to what you did, and accept the consequences.
I know that it is painful to admit that no one made you do this and that it is all on you. However, it is not nearly as painful as trying to maintain the illusion that you are simply a victim of the hand you’ve been dealt. It is not nearly as painful as trying to defend the indefensible, explain the unexplainable, and excuse the inexcusable.
I think you will find, as I have, that coming completely clean without any defense brings freedom, peace, and joy. And ultimately, it will turn you from being a hurter to a healer as you help those you have hurt to reach a place of healing and recovery.