What characterizes responsibility?
I love the following answers that people gave me on Facebook:
Comment #1 “Characteristics of responsibility are going beyond the call of duty, doing the right thing even when no-one is watching, seeing things through, owning up to mistakes (that’s a hard one).”
Comment #2 The characteristic of a responsible person is someone who dares makes a commitment and then follows through.”
Comment #3 “Being responsible means caring and is the opposite of narcissism. I try to be responsible because I care about how my actions affect other people.”
Comment #4 (answer to comment #3) “I believe that caring is an important part of that. I found personally, that true, genuine caring sprung forth from self honesty ( living without self delusion, choosing to remove veils and facades, just plain old honesty) ….when our barriers to ourselves and the world around us are let down, we can begin to see things more clearly, and thus our capacity for compassion I think, increases.”
Comment # 5 “I think a responsible person is characterized by self-honesty, moderation (I may be using this word too generally here), imaginative for the purpose of learning and not self delusion.”
Here is a list of characteristics incorporating those comments plus a few more:
As a responsible person you:
• Go beyond the call of duty
• Are able to distinguish right from wrong
• Take a stand on what’s happening
• Don’t look at what people will say but only what you think is right
• Do what’s right even when no one is watching
• Care about how your actions affect others
• Don’t exploit people or things or needlessly indulge but use things in moderation.
• Initiate change
• Want to learn, and use your imagination
• Are willing to risk making mistakes and understand that learning comes only through making mistakes
• Own up to mistakes and don’t blame others for your bad choices
• Ask forgiveness/offer to pay for your mistakes
• Dare make a commitment and then follow through
• Are aware of what you can and cannot do
• Recognize you have an important role to play
• Understand that if it’s you job, no one will do it for you, although they will help you
• Are honest with yourself (don’t engage in self-delusion)
• Have nothing to hide
• Choose to remove veils and facades and let down barriers, allowing you to see more clearly, which increases your capacity for compassion
• Are reliable, grateful and forgiving
I want to take your comments back to the core of why these are characteristics of responsibility.
The core underlying these characteristics of responsibility is being an authentic SELF
What is a self?
When describing how one can judge a person’s character Rav Wolbe says: “A person is not judged by his education, even if his actions are noble and loyal to what he’s been taught. A person is judged by what he’s mindfully made of himself without anyone putting him up to it…The verse says ‘Do not be like a horse, like a mule with no understanding, who is restrained by his bit and his bridle.’ Like an animal, all that prevents this person from breaking boundaries is something external like a bit and a bridle. This is not appropriate for a human being. What holds a person back [from wrongdoing] should be from within his inner self – to understand from within his inner self and consciousness [what is right], even where he has received no guidance or education. Only one who does not understand from himself – who is “a horse and mule with no understanding” – requires external fences.” (Pirkei Kinyan Da’at p. 28)
The Maharal (Netivot Olam Vol I p. 150) uses the same word – “self” regarding the capacity to love. “‘You shall walk in the ways of God…’ Through this quality [of loving-kindness] a person is capable of emulating God more than any other quality because he does it [acts of kindness] from his self, his will and his consciousness…when he goes beyond what he is obligated to do…”
It’s interesting that comment #1 above mentioned going beyond the call of duty, which relates to both responsibility and love. Regarding both responsibility and love the critical point is being your authentic self. When you are responsible you don’t react; you act. You are self-governing, self-motivated and self-directed. You have a self and you move from that center.
To be responsible is to do what’s expected of you – not what someone arbitrarily expects of you but what you should expect of yourself based on who you are and what you’re supposed to be doing in the world. Why? Like objects I’ve purchased, my tasks belong to me. Just as I take ownership of things only once I pay money for them, so I earn my self and my place in this world (and the next) only once I take on the tasks that are mine to do.
This leads to the next question I asked about motivation. Why would someone want to be responsible?
The Facebook answer I got in answer to that was:
“What motivates me to be responsible is the feeling that I am actively participating in my life. For better or for worse I am taking an account and being accounted for.”
I agree. This last statement is very well put, and it supports the idea of being and acting from a place of authentic self-hood.
If responsibility means being my authentic self why would anyone not want to be responsible and not want to grow in this regard? It’s easier to blame and act helpless and it’s scary to take risks and stand up for what’s right, even if it means sitting on the sidelines of your own life.
But I don’t have to blame myself or others. I can admit I did wrong and move on. If I recognize that the choices I made resulted in negative consequences, then I’ll feel empowered knowing I can make better choices now.
If I understand that no learning can take place without mistakes then I will welcome the opportunity to learn from my mistakes. The more aware I am that life is a task and that life’s tests can refine and elevate me the more I will be aligned with the meaning of my life and aware of my dialogue with life/with God, giving me inner peace and a sense of trust and humility along with empowerment and centered-ness.