Today’s subject is responsibility. Not social responsibility, which is a separate issue, but personal responsibility. When we take responsibility, we admit we are the ones responsible for the choices we make. We, not other people or events, are responsible for the way we think and feel. It is our life, and we are in charge of it. We are free to enjoy it or disdain it. No, we are not responsible for all that happens to us, but we are responsible for how we think, feel, and act when they happen.
Why did God make us so fleet-footed? Some would argue it is to allow us to dodge, duck, and run from responsibility! Why would anyone want to do that? Well, many people associate responsibility with duty and obligations, which, in turn, are thought of as burdens. But personal responsibility is not a burden, it is a blessing. This becomes clear when we understand that PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY IS NOTHING OTHER THAN THE FREEDOM TO CREATE OUR OWN LIVES. Yes, responsibility is equated with freedom and power. Once we awaken to this fact, we become liberated and empowered. Once we become aware of this truth, we shed our victim mentality and gain the power to transform ourselves.
The other day it was pouring rain. Some waved their arms in exasperation and complained that their day off was ‘ruined’ by the weather. How can a free car wash and watering of the lawn ‘ruin’ one’s day? The complainers are not free. They are in prisons of their own making. They ‘can’t’ enjoy life simply because it’s ‘too’ wet outside. Instead of choosing to be miserable, why not choose to rent a hilarious video, play indoor mini golf, visit the library or bookstore, see a friend, or dress properly, take an umbrella, and enjoy a walk in the rain? Why reject the roles of creativity, flexibility, and resiliency in order to play the role of victim? Why choose to be weak when one can be strong? Why choose to be sullen when one can be thrilled?
Let’s get personal and talk about you for a moment. Are you perfectly happy with the way things are at this time, or do you wish things were better? Chances are you are neither perfectly happy nor completely unhappy, for most of us lie somewhere between both extremes. However, if you’re not totally satisfied, what are you doing about it? If you continue to do the same things, everything will remain the same. Nothing will change until you do.
If a change in your life is warranted, why not begin by recognizing that your present situation is not the result of your genes, parents, education, job, luck, timing, health, or environment. Rather, it is the choices you have made and the actions you have taken that have brought you where you are today. Change your choices and actions and you will change the results that follow. This understanding is the first step in personal transformation. The second step is the action that follows, for as Dietrich Bonhoffer (1906 ~ 1945) wrote, “Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.”
What action should we take? Start by taking a personal inventory. That is, examine your life to learn the extent that you are either already taking responsibility or evading it. This is best done by asking yourself a series of questions and writing the answers for later study. Here’s what I mean. Do you ever say to yourself or others any of the following? Life is so unfair. I’m unlucky. No one wants to help me. It’s not my fault that I’m the way I am. Life is an endless struggle; there are too many burdens to bear. Terrible things are always happening to me. My parents (spouse, friends, coworkers, boss, health, the weather, or the political situation) make me depressed (angry or frustrated). I feel overwhelmed and helpless. Some people get all the breaks; I’m just unfortunate. I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. There’s nothing I can do; it’s just the way the world is. I can’t succeed because of the corrupt government, blood-sucking corporations, greedy employers, and back-stabbing coworkers. I’m unsuccessful because of the prejudice (age discrimination, sexism, jealousy, hatred, stupidity) of others. I would be successful if it weren’t for the idiots holding me back. Self-help books, positive thinking, or the advice of others can’t help me.
Can you see where I’m going with this? All the above thoughts express the mindset of a self made victim. Instead of taking personal responsibility and taking charge of one’s life, that kind of thinking is used to blame others or life for one’s own failures. That type of thinking is dead-end thinking, self-defeating thinking. With these thoughts in mind, and tongue in cheek, Ambrose Bierce (1842 ~ 1914) defines responsibility in his “The Devil’s Dictionary” as follows: “RESPONSIBILITY, n. A detachable burden easily shifted to the shoulders of God, Fate, Fortune, Luck or one’s neighbor. In the days of astrology it was customary to unload it upon a star.”
Yes, it’s easy to shift the responsibility and blame others or events. But what good is that? All it does is keep us in a rut. We cannot make any real progress until we admit to ourselves, “Only I can hold myself back. Only I can stand in my own way. Only I can help myself. Only I can take personal responsibility. Only I can transform myself from a victim of circumstances to a reasoning, choice-making, action oriented person. Only I can make the decision to stop acting like a victim and start taking charge of my life.”
One of the first ‘people’ we greet each morning is our reflection in the mirror. Don’t we want to be accountable, answerable, and responsible for the life we are creating for it? By accepting that responsibility, we unleash great power and transform ourselves. It may be convenient for a caterpillar to have so many legs, but it remains earthbound. It is far better to make a dramatic change and transform ourselves like a butterfly, so we can take flight and explore a new world.
Let me end by saying, all this emphasis on making the right choices and accepting personal responsibility is for your benefit only. That is, use these ideas to improve yourself, but not to judge others. You can never enter the mind, heart, and body of another, so you are unaware of the reasons for their failures. Not everyone is as ready as you are to change. That’s why it is written in the Talmud (Rabbinical writings of the 1 ~ 6 centuries AD), “A man may not be responsible for his actions in an hour of tribulation and pain.”
On the other hand, if you are racked with pain, saddled with poverty, or deprived of other blessings most take for granted, use your experience to have compassion for those who are even worst off than you, but do not use your burdens as excuses to remain in a negative frame of mind. You have enough problems already; don’t add to them by endlessly complaining, for that only entrenches them deeper into your life. Rather, look for the good, appreciate it, and take responsibility by making the most of what you have. Happiness is a choice, just like misery is; we all have the responsibility to make the right choices. We owe it to ourselves to do so.