What is responsibility?

When you think about the idea of responsibility, what is your first reaction? Perhaps you associate responsibility with blame, burden, obligation, power, choice, even fear.

But what is responsibility, really? There are two factors to responsibility – willingness and ability. If either one is missing, then responsibility cannot happen. Responsibility is taking ownership and recognising ourselves as the cause of things.

In our lives, we may have multiple levels of responsibility:

1. Our tasks and roles

This is the most basic level. Being responsible for our tasks and roles simply means ensuring that our tasks are completed and our roles are fulfilled. For example, I am responsible at work for creating a monthly finance report. As long as I complete the report to 100% accuracy, my responsibility is fulfilled. Tasks are simple and straightforward.

We also have roles. For example, I could be the breadwinner in my family. Being the breadwinner means that I have to earn enough money to feed my family of 4. As long as I make enough money to keep my wife and children fed, sheltered, and clothed, I have fulfilled my responsibility.

This kind of responsibility is fundamental, for, without it, we would not be able to survive, hold a job, or contribute meaningfully to relationships and teams.

2. Our responses and choices

At a slightly more advanced level, we become responsible for our responses and choices.

You’re driving on the road. Someone cuts in your lane abruptly. You have to hit your brakes in the middle of the expressway so you won’t hit him. Idiot! You want sound your horn and flip that stupid driver off. There is such injustice in the world! Such unfairness! Why are people allowed to get away with such things? Why do bad things happen to good people? The police isn’t doing enough to keep these retards off the road. The government is doing a shitty job. There are too many cars!

Ever find yourself reacting emotionally to an event you couldn’t control? You can’t control how other people treat you. You can’t control all of your circumstances – your family, office politics, the weather, what the neighbours do – but you can control your response.

Would you choose to let anger, fear, and self-pity get the better of you? Or would you choose to be responsible for how you react?

Being responsible for a choice means being able and willing to bear the full consequences of the choice. For example, we are given the opportunity to buy some stocks, knowing that there is a 50% chance we make $100, and a 50% chance we lose $100. We choose to buy the stock. When we find out that we lost the money, do we become bitter and angry? Or do we accept that there was always going to be that chance? Do we take both the good and the bad of all the choices we make?

Being responsible for both our responses and choices gives us back the power in our lives. Instead of blaming circumstances and people, we start to acknowledge our role in creating and causing the chain of events that resulted in a particular outcome.

3. Our being

The next level is to be responsible for who we are, not just what we do. Who are is expressed in everything we do, from simple things like cleaning the toilet, to big things like managing a business.

A guru once said, “If you feel what you are doing is important, first thing is to work upon yourself. Whatever you do will only be an expression of who you are. So who you are needs to be enhanced.”

When you clean a toilet, how do you do it? Do you do it just to get the job done? Or do you take great care and pride in making the toilet clean? Do you clean the toilet to make it perfect because you’re afraid someone would criticise you otherwise? Or do you clean the toilet well because you want the user to feel comfortable on the throne? Do you do it carelessly, because you never wanted to clean it in the first place? How well the toilet is cleaned and how brightly it shines after you’ve cleaned it reflects the kind of energy and effort you’ve put into the process.

Why and how you do the things you do emanate from your being. Are you a meticulous person? A loving person? An anxious person?

If you were a loving person, your love shows through in the way you speak, the way you treat your subordinates, the way you discipline your children. If you were a passionate person, your passion expresses itself in your tone of voice, the intensity of your effort, the fire you use to motivate others.

You reveal and express yourself in everything you do.

Being responsible for your being and the kind of person you are means to take very seriously your personal growth and development.

4. Our lives

Being responsible for our lives means that we seek to find the deepest truth about ourselves. We inquire into the nature of our personality and uncover our essence, to answer our calling and find our life purpose.

Each of us is unique, with specific tasks and lessons to perform in this lifetime. However, our true nature and essence is often clouded by our false personalities. False personalities are the public image we have constructed to keep ourselves accepted and loved in the eyes of others. As long as we hold onto our masks, instead of walking our personal journeys, we do not fulfil the purpose of our lives.

Being responsible at this level means to have a burning desire for truth, constantly refining our personal visions and goals, so that we can reach the heart of what truly matters to us, and uncover our life’s purpose.

We find the personal expression that best reflects our values and create a life that reflects our essential selves. We fulfil our potential.

5. Our positions

Being responsible for our positions mean we know our place in our families, communities, country, humanity, the environment, the world, and the universe.

Being responsible for each of these domains does not mean that we are wholly and solely responsible for the overall outcome. For example, being responsible for my country does not mean that I personally ensure that the nation reaches its 2% annual GDP growth target. But it does mean that we become aware of the role we play in each of these organisations and structures.

At the family level, we take responsibility for our family situation. We neither blame our parents for the way they raised us nor stand in their shadow. We start to understand how our families shaped us, and choose the role we want to play in the family. Are we the leader? The supporter? The mediator?

Similarly, being a responsible citizen of a nation means we are aware of the role we play in shaping the future of the country. Do we decide to vote in public elections? Do we choose to become an entrepreneur to innovate new products to be exported, thereby creating jobs? Or do we decide to become a teacher, shaping the future generation of the country? Each citizen has a role to play.

Becoming responsible at this level means that we are aware of the dynamics and complexities of larger organisations and structures, and also aware of our unique gifts and abilities such that we can make the link of how we are contributing to the progress and evolution of a much larger entity.

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