Back to Back Issues Page
Communication and Conflict Newsletter, Issue #010, - Ownership and Responsibility
November 16, 2008

Buy at


Ownership of our actions and responsibility
(....or, if we are going to consider someone responsible for something happening, then let's look to the person who actually did it.....)

Alan Sharland

Click Here to see Previous Newsletters.

The Communication and Conflict Newsletter is no longer published although the archives can still be visited via the above link. Instead, Alan Sharland now produces a blog associated with his organisation CAOS Conflict Management - you can visit this and sign up by clicking on the banner below:

CAOTICA the CAOS Conflict Management Blog

Hi Everyone,

Welcome to Newsletter no.10 - November 2008

Unfortunately this week in the UK, there are reports of a child who has died, as a result of accumulated injuries inflicted on him by two male friends of his mother.

However, rather than the resulting rage and scorn and anger being directed towards those that carried out the assaults on the child, it has been directed at the Director of Children and Young People's Services in the London Borough where the child lived, Sharon Shoesmith.

The basis for this seems to be that she is considered responsible for the death of the child, known only as 'Baby P'.

This is an example of the difficulties that arise when ownership of our actions and accountability for them is not seen to be ours. It is an extension of the blame approach that was discussed in the last Newsletter. Blame must be allocated somewhere! But those actually responsible for an action are sometimes seen to be unable to own that responsibility, as if you couldn't expect anything else from such people and so the 'blame' must lie elsewhere for 'allowing such a thing to happen'. As if we are able to control the behaviours of others.

This is similar to situations where we find, for example, a shopkeeper who innocently sells a knife to someone, being considered 'responsible' when that person stabs and kills another person.

It is similar to saying that if a country provides arms to another country then the country selling the arms is responsible for the deaths caused by the use of those arms in violent conflict, rather than those that carry out the attacks.

The Guide to the Principles of Effective Communication and Conflict Resolution e-book is now available!
Click here for further details.

Join the Communication and Conflict Affiliate Program! You will be sent an email for each sale originating from your website. Each month's earnings will be paid via PayPal within 15 days of month end.

It is similar to saying that when children act unlawfully or in ways that are frowned upon by adults, it is the parents' responsibility.......or sorry, no, is it the childrens' teachers' responsibility? I forget, although both groups of adults often end up blaming each other rather than look to those that are directly responsible for their actions - the children themselves. Children are often believed to be 'incapable' of taking responsibility for their actions and so it is rarely considered that they can be asked to do so.

Consider the recent responses to knife crime that was so prevalent in the news during this year - much of the outcry was simply finger pointing between parents, teachers, police and other authorities, often amplified by the newspapers. The light in the darkness was when young people were seen identifying what they, themselves can do to avoid being involved in knife crime.

And when a death occurs as in the case of Baby P, those who inflicted the injuries on the child are only mentioned in one paragraph at the end of the newspaper article about the case, while the rest of the article discusses the culpability of the professional who heads the Department that strove to care for the child.

In such cases, if Ms Shoesmith is considered to be responsible, then couldn't everyone be considered as responsible? What about the neighbours who live next to the child? What about the friends and relatives of those who actually carried out the injuries? What about every other person who at some time came into contact with Baby P?

If you like what you are reading and you think other people would too, please Send this Newsletter to them for their consideration.
But ultimately, the people who were violent towards the child were the ones whose actions led to his death. Therefore only they are responsible for it.

So why does this response happen?

In such situations and even in less serious ones there can be a strong tendency to abdicate responsibility to 'authorities' for what happens to us and for our own actions. We did it because they made us do it. It is their fault this happened to us. They didn't stop me doing it.

This tendency can be reinforced by the approach of those who have some form of authority position who speak as if they are able to control people's behaviours. Promises to eliminate violent crime, or teenage pregnancies or drug addiction or to ensure the welfare of all in society in whatever way that manifests itself imply that all the rest of us have to do is sit back and let it happen - when in fact the only way we will ever move towards such aims is if we all, individually, play an active role (acknowledge our ownership) in developing our own capacities to respond more effectively to the difficulties we face in life - many of which are completely unavoidable and never will be possible to eliminate. Life happens!

Quotation Corner:
When you point a finger at someone, always remember there are 3 fingers pointing back at you!


The Rescuer Syndrome is present in many of our institutions' approaches to dealing with social problems and, correspondingly, the abdication of responsibility for our own actions can exist where we do not question the 'absolute' capacities of those institutions, or even just other individuals, to solve our problems for us. This mutually disempowering relationship can happen between doctors and patients, bosses and employees, parents and their children, teachers and pupils, housing officers and tenants, social workers and their clients....and the list goes on.

We all have a part to play in that. Blaming someone else as we have seen in the Baby P tragedy keeps us in the self created cycle of despair and perceived powerlessness that means it is more, not less, likely to happen again. And again. And again..........

Connect with Alan on LinkedIn

or his Twitter page @alan_sharland

Besides being the author of the Communication and Conflict website Alan is Director of CAOS Conflict Management Tel. +44 20 3371 7507

Follow @CAOS_Mediation on Twitter:

Become a fan of CAOS Conflict Management on Facebook

Recommended Books

You Really Are Responsible: A Guide to Self-empowerment and Improved Relationships This is a superb little book by Tycho Photiou that really challenges the reader to consider their own capacity and responsibility to own his/her choices and paths in life.

And, for a time of upheaval and change, the following 2 books seem quite apt:

Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion by Pema Chodron, an author I hadn't heard of until I visited New York a few years ago - here's the start of Teaching 77: Slogan "Abandon any hope of fruition" - "Fruition" implies that at some future time you will feel good. One of the most powerful Buddhist teachings is that as long as you are wishing for things to change, they never will. As long as you're wanting yourself to get better, you won't. As long as you are oriented toward the future, you can never just relax into what you already have or already are.

The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts, one of the earliest and most influential authors in my life as mentioned in Newsletter 5. This is from the preface to the book:
This book is... in the spirit of the Chinese sage Lao-tzu, that master of the law of reversed effort, who declared that those who justify themselves do not convince, that to know truth one must get rid of knowledge, and that nothing is more powerful and creative than emptiness - from which men shrink...... ....This book is an exploration of this law in relation to man's quest for psychological security, and to his efforts to find spiritual and intellectual certainty in religion and philosophy. It is written in the conviction that no theme could be more appropriate in a time when human life seems to be so peculiarly insecure and uncertain. It maintains that this security is the result of trying to be secure, and that, contrariwise, salvation and sanity consist in the most radical recognition that we have no way of saving ourselves.

Consultation via Skype.

Would you like:

  • Conflict coaching to support you in a difficult situation to find more effective ways of responding?
  • Mentoring, if you are a Mediator or other conflict resolution practitioner, to support you in reviewing and developing your practice?

If you have Skype and would like to arrange a consultation, please go to the Skype Consultation page to send me details of what you would like to discuss and proposed times to call me.

Skype to Skype calls are free from anywhere in the world so there will not be any telephone cost, just the fee for the consultation which is a fixed charge per minute.

Don't have Skype? Click on this small banner to find out more about it:

Some links that you may find interesting...... by Stephanie Goddard - a website very much in line with the thinking of this site. Stressed Out at Work AGAIN? Work Stress Is NOT Caused By -Your Difficult Coworkers - Your Diet - Your Lack of Time...So What Causes Work Stress? Stress is caused by only one thing....the way you think. Stephanie has 2 great books: 101 Ways to Have a Great Day at Work and 101 Ways to Love Your Job is an excellent resource of information relating to mediation. There are articles, links to websites and blogs as well as the possibility of locating mediators in your area. - is a comprehensive guide to information about Self Improvement, Personal Growth and Self Help on the Internet. It is designed to be an organized directory, with articles and references to thousands of other Web Sites on the World Wide Web. is a rich source of information, quotes and support to enable us to find and be true to ourselves.

Oh Wow This Changes Everything is a great site with an enormous number of links to articles about different aspects of effective communication and conflict resolution. Definitely worth a could be there for hours! helps people, like yourself, create change in their life and business. They share fun stress management strategies and personal development articles.

New This site is sooo full of great links and resources relating to Co-operative Communication skills - I would very much recommend it.

Learning Supersite is a fascinating site dedicated to the development of informal learning. "A new approach to learning, the Learning Supersite is a venue that provides personal learning community, but with state-of-the-art Web technologies."

Transforming Conflict is an excellent organisation which works with young people, and adults, in educational settings, promoting restorative approaches to conflict.

Aik Saath This is an amazing and interesting website, quite besides the work of Aik Saath that it promotes. Aik Saath works to promote conflict resolution skills in young people and the development of peace and racial harmony in Slough, UK and its surrounding areas.

Would you like to build your own website?.....this is how I built mine... I Love SBI!

So, how did you like it?

Buy at

If you liked this Newsletter and you think other people would like it too, please Send this Newsletter to them for their consideration.
As Featured On Best Ezines
See Self-help section
Write a review of this newsletter!

If you have been forwarded this Newsletter by someone else, and would like to subscribe to future issues, please click on this link for a flyer.

If you have any comments or feedback you would like to give about the Newsletter, including any requests for future content, please reply to this email or go to the Questions/Comments page on the Communication and Conflict website to tell me what you thought.

I would welcome your views.

Thank you for Subscribing!

Back to Back Issues Page