Updated: Mar 17
I am part of a wider problem of people not taking all our personal responsibility. Sometimes acting, as if other people are responsible, for our personal conduct. Saying to ourselves ‘I am not playing if I can't win’, ‘I did it because I was allowed to,’ 'I was just following orders,' or ‘everyone else was doing it.’ Hiding behind mitigations, a grievance, popular culture, governments and our history. My most recent example being wasting energy being angry about COVID-19 school provision. Rather than the grieving its loss and focusing my energies on educating my own kids.
My emotions in writing this article are an embarrassment that this pattern persists and sadness that many people, including me, seem to remain fearful of taking all our personal responsibility. So to become less a part of this problem I will detail the ways I perpetuate the problem. Then detail ways I will change to become less a part of the problem.
I perpetuate the problem by having too much hubris. Attracted to a narcissistic sense of myself. Seducing myself into believing I am fundamentally different from other people. As if my actual self was not enough. Some people say ‘if you [take the personal responsibility to] speak your truth, your tribe will be those who hang around.’ However a voice in my head says ‘what if I speak my truth and no one hangs around?’ As if I am fundamentally worse than anyone else.
I also perpetuate the problem by procrastinating. Sometimes saying, ‘If only I wrote more, or thought more, or found the perfect way, before I act.’ A particular form of action dominated by avoidance rather than hypothesis testing. As if any decision, or lack of a decision, in our lives did not involve both significant risk and loss. In this way, taking all our personal responsibility seems to involve accepting such paradoxes.
The Fairness vs Loyalty Paradox
The opposing values, of fairness and loyalty, can be considered as equally important. This paradox means that the same action, will be responsible in one context, and irresponsible in another. As adults we must consciously decide, using our own moral code, which action is most responsible for us, in which context.
Our actions may be viewed as a betrayal, or a failure in a duty of care, by other people. People disagreeing with our choices does not automatically mean we have not taken personal responsibility. It may instead represent the different context, or moral code, of the other person. Either way, in making these conscious decisions to take all our personal responsibility, we also have to accept the consequences of them. I have been helped by the philosophical ideas in existentialism to contain these apparent contradictions (Guignon, 2021.)
Here and now, this is your life.
Taking more personal responsibility also seems to involve responding to the challenges we face here and now. It can be irresponsible for us to indulge in condemnation about the past or fantasies about the future. I needed to learn and move on. In this way responsibility can be an opportunity to do something different going forwards. That can be exciting instead of scary.
In summary, through writing this blog, I have learnt that taking all our personal responsibility is a judgement we have to make and be accountable for. Whatever we do, cannot be undone. We must answer to ourselves for our actions. We have to live with ourselves. That is hard enough. So perhaps, if we are to be content, we need to act in a way that fits with how we want to be. Thank you for reading about my experience. I wonder about yours?
Guignon, Charles B.. Existentialism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N020-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis, https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/existentialism/v-1.