Now that I’ve got your attention – I’m not talking about murder here. Cain was wrong in that. Don’t kill your brother. That’s wrong. Murder is wrong. OK? Good. But after Cain murdered his brother, after he let his anger get the better of him, after that, God went looking for Cain and God asked Cain where Abel was. And Cain shrugged the question off and answered God, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s guardian?”
Well, Cain did know where his brother was. But the thing is, as much as he was being a smart-ass to God here (a lot of false bravado, I think, as he’s being called to face what he’s done), he’s not entirely wrong. Cain is not his brother’s guardian. Not ultimately.
Oh yes, sure, we have covenanted to live in society with one another, and in that sense we must all look out for one another. But ultimately, for those of us who are of legal age and in possession of our faculties, we are only responsible for ourselves. We have free will. This goes back to an even earlier story in Genesis.
Why did God put the tree of knowledge in the middle of the garden of Eden and then tell the humans, who were completely naive, like toddlers, “Whatever you do – don’t touch that big, juicy tree right there in the middle.”? I think God was expecting them to eat of the fruit of the tree – to eat of the tree and to become fully human. God risked everything – God made God’s self vulnerable to be able to have a complete relationship with humanity that included free will.
So we have free will and we are responsible only for our own behavior. This doesn’t get us off the hook in terms of how we behave with others. We don’t get to be jackasses (well, we could be, but there are consequences, and then we’d be, well, jackasses). But I am only responsible for my own behavior. And while I strive to be a good and kind person, I am not responsible for anyone else’s happiness. And that’s the thing.
Over the last few years I’ve noticed a whole lot of things being shared around on social media that tell us the things we “must know about” “should know about” or “how to act around” various types of people. How to interact with introverts. How to behave with an extrovert. Things you should know about people who went to Walden University in 1973. Why is this on me?
One of the things I’ve noticed in many of these pieces is that a lot of what they’re saying is just about being plain-old polite. Being polite should not have gone out of style. It’s not that it’s hard for introverts when someone constantly pushes and prods them to go out when they don’t want to go out. It’s just plain rude! Let’s name that. It’s rude. It doesn’t matter that the person is an introvert. So how about this: Don’t be rude!
However, beyond being polite, it really isn’t on me to take on someone else’s issues. Sure – it’s good to get to know people – but if you don’t like parties, then it’s not on me to make sure I don’t invite you. It’s on you to politely refuse the invitation. “I’m having a party on Saturday night and you’re invited.” “Thank you for the invitation – it’s kind of you to think of me. I won’t be able to make it.” That’s all it takes. I don’t pester you about why you don’t come, and you don’t owe me any explanations. It’s an invitation, not a demand.
Recently, I saw someone’s Facebook post about the difference between friends and friend-zoning. This individual proposed the the difference was that in friend-zoning, the burden is on the person who isn’t interested. “She friend-zoned you!” – Why is it on the person who isn’t interested? If I have a crush on you, and you aren’t interested in me, that’s on me! You owe me nothing. Otherwise, each one of the Beatles would really be very responsible for my feelings.
I fear that in a culture of privilege and entitlement, we’re coming to expect that responsibility is always someplace else. But this is the price of free will. We aren’t naive toddlers in the garden. We are fully human – in relationship with one another and with God. As such, we must accept responsibility for our own feelings and our own behavior.
That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.