Who's In Charge [1]

by Harvey Jackins

Each of us who has attempted to use Re-evaluation Counseling for his or her own progress has come up against certain interfering attitudes of his or her own. These attitudes become attached to us as part of the distress recordings which we all bear. These recordings are different each one from the other, since each arose from a unique experience, slightly different from any other distress experience. Nevertheless, certain similarities usually tend to occur in any given culture because many aberration patterns have become chronic in the culture and are a part of our cultural conditioning. Thus they are enforced in a similar way upon all of us.

One of these common types of patterns is what might be called the “helpless” pattern. The content, spoken and acted out repeatedly, is that one has difficulty because of something outside of oneself. We feel, act, and assert that some other person or circumstance, apart from ourselves and our patterns, is stopping us from acting or achieving as we wish to. This kind of pattern is carried in some form by all of us, though in a rare individual it will be so contradicted and submerged by compulsive responsibility patterns as to seem lacking to casual observation.

One source of these patterns is imitation of the similar patterns which our elders wear, since these elders are the source of a great deal of our information. If we accept these models during distress, uncritically, they become combined into our distress patterns, and we dramatize helplessness later in manners and phrases which the patterns of our elders used.

A second source is that the foundation incidents of our patterns of rigid behavior occur when we are children, when in actual fact we are quite dependent and unable to take full responsibility for ourselves. Not only are we weak and without information, but also we are often enforced into helpless roles. At the time the earlier distress recordings are made, there is an element of dependence, of being unable to be in charge of things.

Daily, for each of us, the rational need to act responsibly comes into conflict with old feelings of helplessness. Daily, we succumb to the feelings and fail an opportunity; or, less often, we resist by calling upon other distress feelings to resist the helpless ones, for example, “working up a mad” to help ourselves do the things we are afraid to do.

One sometimes blindly makes a decision that it is better to try than to despair. Such desperate reasoning has served in many crises for many people.

Actually, the reality is more reassuring than that.

All of us who are adults are in fact always able to be responsible. If we look closely at the realities of our lives, it can be demonstrated for each of us that we are able to take charge and have our lives go the way we want them to.

All of us have the capacity to manage our lives because all of us have a very large amount of intelligence at our disposal if we can remove the distresses that inhibit it so that it can function. With the knowledge of Re-evaluation Counseling which all of you reading this possess (or can possess), you have the possibility of doing just this.

Each human being, each one of us, is in full charge of the entire universe. This is a strong statement but it is logically meaningful.

The universe—as far as our relation with it goes—actually is our universe, and it must necessarily be centered on each of us.

We are not here setting up a subjective structure or pretense and turning away from the reality of the universe that exists. To face the realness of the universe of which we are a part is the first step in taking full charge.

We assume the reality of the objective universe. We cannot prove its existence. Philosophers have previously demonstrated this with complete logic. The reality or non-reality of the universe is an axiomatic question. We can assume that it is real or we can assume that it is a projected idea. We must assume one or the other if we wish to deal with the universal impression that there is a universe surrounding us.

The idealist philosopher chooses to assume that the universe is a mental image, a figment of someone’s mind—God’s mind, a human’s, the philosopher’s. The realist philosopher assumes that the objective universe exists independently of whether humans think about it or not.

In practice, both philosophers act on the realist’s assumption. The idealist philosopher behaves like the realist when s/he goes down to breakfast in the morning and eats her/his ham and eggs just as if they were real.

We choose the realist assumption, of course. We assume that the objective universe is real for the very down-to-earth reason that this attitude leads in practice to more interesting and useful results, and because it is aesthetically more satisfying.

We assume that the universe is real, that it exists quite independently of human thought about it. But when we come to dealing with this universe, to human manipulation and improvement of it, we are not able to come to grips directly with this reality. We can only take in the sensory impressions reaching us from this real environmental universe, and from these construct a mental model of the universe as we know it.

Each of us must necessarily construct her/his own unique model. No two of us can receive identical data or hold identical viewpoints. In practice it turns out that the more direct one’s sensory contact and the more self-reliantly one builds one’s model (i.e., with the least uncritical borrowing of others’ conclusions), the more useful the model becomes.

These separate models which we build can be brought to any desired degree of agreement by communication and improved perception. Actually, conflicting viewpoints do not persist except where aberrations inhibit the thinking process.

Yet each of these models will necessarily contain the viewpoint of the model builder, and this viewpoint must necessarily be unique. Thus the models cannot be identical in any absolute sense.

(If the distinction between “agreement to any desired degree” and “not identical” seems confusing, let us resort to an analogy from mathematics. The rational fraction 1/3 can be written in decimal notation as .33. This is very close to 1/3 but it is 33/100 which is not exactly 1/3. However, no matter how small a difference we specify for our decimal number to vary from 1/3, we can achieve this accuracy. We can do it by writing .3333 or .33333 or as many places of 3’s as we wish or have the time or paper to write. Thus we can produce a decimal number which is less different from 1/3 than any specified difference, but we cannot represent 1/3 decimally in any absolute sense—no matter how many 3’s we write.)

This unique mental model which we construct is, then, the universe that we are in charge of. No one else can be in charge of it. This is our model. It is a more and more accurate description of what the objective universe is, but never identical with it, always including the viewpoint of the model builder.

Changes in the real universe will occur as a result of the activities which we have initiated acting on our model. But these changes will be reflected by changes in the models of all of us if we remain aware, perceptive and rational in this logical way. Each of us is necessarily in charge of this universe of ours—all the universe there can be for any one of us—to manipulate, to master, to improve and to enjoy.

The universe which we can apprehend, grasp, manipulate and enjoy spreads out from us individually in every direction. It is the nature of the human being at its center to be intelligent, to take charge. No other creature that we have knowledge of possesses this ability.

Perhaps some day we will meet some other such creatures in a visiting delegation from some distant planet or star. Until we do, a human being is the most complex and the only largely rational creature that we have knowledge of. We simply are the best there is. Only we have the capacity for manipulating the environment and managing its progress.

The principal obstacle to our fulfilling this role thoroughly, to our all-around enjoyment and satisfaction, is exactly the distress recordings which drag behind us like unwelcome parasites and which tend to discourage us or inhibit us from assuming this active responsibility for all things.

To resist these patterns is a necessary step for intelligent functioning. When we talk of full responsibility for the entire universe, we are in the first place trying to get a realistic picture of the role assigned to us by our nature. We also seek, however, to set up safeguards against the insidious effects of irresponsibility patterns.

If we compromise with the patterns of feeling inadequate to any extent, we will accept a limit to our responsibility. We will rationalize, perhaps in familiar phrases: “How in the world could I be held responsible for that?” Or, “There must be a limit to what a person can be responsible for ”

Actually, no; there is no limit. We must take full responsibility, each of us, for the farthest atom of the farthest star in the farthest galaxy, because if we set any limit to our responsibility, then we have logically abandoned all responsibility. We have opened ourselves to the impact of the irresponsibility patterns. A reactive lack of principle will have been established so that soon we will be excusing irresponsibility on things very close to us in our environment.

There is an old Norwegian folktale about the good man who, with his old wife’s approval, decided to take their precious second cow to market and exchange it for something even more useful to them. As the story unwinds, the good man (an “impulse barterer”) exchanges the cow for a less valuable horse, the horse for a sheep, the sheep for a goat, the goat for a pig, the pig for a rooster and, as hunger pangs develop, the rooster for a sandwich, which he consumes. The valuable cow had been quickly transformed into no property at all, and once the first impulse trade had been accepted, each step that followed was quite consistent. The actual point of the folktale was quite positive. The old man recoups his losses magnificently by betting his neighbor a hundred dollars that the good wife will approve of everything he has done, which she proceeds to do, beaming approval for her husband’s wisdom in each trade he recounts, and thus winning the hundred dollars for him. The step-by-step loss of the cow, however, is analogous to the erosion of our responsibility—once we accept any limits on it.

Responsibility or irresponsibility is one of the “yes-no” questions in our lives, like an “on” and “off” switch on a light. The light is either on or off—it is not a little bit “on.” There are many questions which are gradual in our behavior. We can be tall or taller; we can push against an object with infinite variation in our pushing force. But we are either completely responsible or logically not at all, and our patterns deceive us when they attempt to set limits to our responsibility.

To say that we are responsible for the entire universe does not mean that we have at any present moment the capacity or resources to do everything that we might wish with all these parts of the universe for which we are responsible.

Certainly we must look at our resources, our capacity at any given moment, and assign these resources rationally to the things in the universe which concern us most. It may be that our present capacity toward the farthest atom mentioned above is simply to be aware of it; but it is important that we be aware of it and not shut it out of our mind as if it were of no interest.

Certainly we must put our attention and resources on our own lives most, next toward the lives of our immediate families, next for the lives of our associates and members of our interest groups, our city, state and nation, next for all humankind; then for other forms of life, the physical world, etc.

This is for the assignment of resources. It is not for us to be responsible for ourselves first (in a time sense) and postpone responsibility for our family. Actually, we must be responsible for all at once for anything workable to happen. We will put in more time and attention on our own job. Most important, we must see that our own job goes well. We will rationally assign time and attention to our immediate families to a much greater extent than we will our bowling team or our hobby club. Yet we must take full responsibility with whatever resources we can allot on all levels or we will be in trouble on all levels.

It is familiar behavior the world over for the frightened citizen’s fear recordings to say: “I am not interested in politics; I must look out for myself.” When grave issues confront the nation (such as the rise of fascism in the ‘thirties, or civil rights and the threat of war today), recordings say: “Leave that up to the big shots . . . ,” “You can’t fight City Hall . . . ,” “I’m going to look out for myself ”

It’s easier to see that this sort of attitude does not work if we choose examples a little away from us. Let us consider the German citizen who, when Hitler’s recordings were corrupting the German nation, excused her/himself from resisting or for going along with Hitler’s program by saying that it wasn’t her/his concern. This rationalization allowed her/him use of the loot from the robbed peoples of Europe; it helped her/him rationalize her/his feelings of guilt at the persecution of the progressives and Jews. Very immediately, it did not protect her/ him from the death of her/his son at Stalingrad, or her/his own death under mass bombings.

A fearful Japanese citizen of Hiroshima might easily rationalize that s/he could not resist the Emperor or the War Cabinet of Japan, and that it wasn’t her/his responsibility to do so. Her/his fear and helplessness recordings might tell her/him that s/he could only look after her/his own little job and her/his own immediate family. Because s/he did nothing effective in the years when the Japanese war machine was building, because s/he accepted limits to her/his rationality, because s/he did not take responsibility, s/he and her/his family died in the glare of the atomic bomb.

These examples are easy to see. They are no more illustrative than similar behavior in the United States, in Seattle, at the present time.

We must be in full charge at all times. We will allocate our resources of time, capital, attention, ability, as rationally as we can. We will not accept limits to our responsibility or our concern.

To assign the responsibility for any difficulty to an external factor, or to another person, or to another person’s recordings, is itself a recorded irrationality. This irrationality “feels” reasonable since all of us have become conditioned to doing this. To blame, to reproach, to say that the cause of the difficulty is elsewhere, is as useless and destructive as self-reproach or guilt. Someone else’s pattern may have initiated a difficulty, or we may be rationalizing and be unaware of our own patterns’ tense behavior which triggered the reaction over there. It makes no difference “who started it.” If we stick on “. . . It’s not up to our conventions,” we tie our hands in terms of solving the situation.

It’s something like the old safety campaign posters: “S/he had the right-of-way, but s/he’s just as dead as if s/he had been wrong.” It doesn’t really matter in terms of solving a situation whose “fault” it is or was; in fact, “fault” and “blame” turn out to be nonsense concepts having no useful meaning. The real question is always: “What can be done to solve the problem?” The first thing that can be done always is that the initiative to work things out can be taken by the first person singular. If we stand around and point the finger of blame or say: “I can’t act because of this or because of that . . . ,” we have tied up our own tremendous ability to solve problems and make things go right. We have allowed the recording to rehearse its dependency message, its impossibility message, its hopeless message. When we defy the recordings and take charge of the situation, then something can be done. Someone has to take charge for our successes to occur. We have to take charge.

Specifically in a Co-Counseling situation, Co-Counselors can become tangled in mutual restimulation. To blame each other or to blame oneself is then the most useless thing in the world. The questions with meaning are always: “What can I do to correct the situation?” “What counseling theories and techniques can I use to untangle this snarl?” Once this attitude is adopted, things begin to happen.

There is only one person in charge of your universe. Some rationalizations offer God as an excuse for being irresponsible. They say that God is really in charge, not “little old helpless me.”

You will have little difficulty with this. If God is in charge of the universe, S/He has certainly placed you as a working superintendent of the you-centered universe with which you deal and is not likely to excuse you from your job.

[1] First published in 1964 as a pamphlet.


Up from inanimate, out of one-celledness,

Gaining complexity, structure and plan,

Changing, evolving at last to intelligence,

Maturing, we make it to Woman or Man.


The struggle, repeating each fresh


Exposes each one to distresses and pain.

When healing is blocked then illusions


Delude us that past situations remain.

Large, we feel little. When safe, we feel


Informed, we plead ignorance. Free, we

hear chains.

Powered, we act helpless. We cling to


While ours gather dust, we trust someone

   else’ brains.


Idiot societies bully and threaten us,

Herd us through ruts of disaster and blah,

Inflaming our scars to secure our conformity,

Blindness perpetuate, unreason raw.


Once only heroes dared rise up occasionally.

Now, all who read this know how to discharge.

Who guides your steering wheel ? Powerhouse?


If it’s not you, then just WHO IS IN CHARGE?

Last modified: 2023-04-15 09:24:12+00