What does it mean to take responsibility? In the media we hear a lot about people not taking personal responsibility or corporations who fail to take responsibility. Certainly, many people and corporations often fail to take appropriate responsibility. I struggle with this too, however, as I think we have lost an essential paradox and that we equate "taking responsibility" with "being blamed." For example, during this economic crisis there has been a lot of "blaming" people for getting into mortgages that they couldn't afford or living above their means and then a message that we shouldn't "bail" people out but they should "take personal responsibility." This however does not capture the complexity of the situation. For most people, their economic problems are not solely in their hands - it is a mix of some poor decisions, pressure from outside forces and a whole society whose economic system is set up to have people consume more and more for the benefit of a very few.
Yet this blog is not a blog about our economy and my point here is that when I hear "personal responsibility" or you are responsible for your whole life then I get a bit nervous. For I am absolutely opposed to the theology of the The Secret which claims that we are personally responsible for everything that happens to us and that if we just surround ourselves with the right energy and thoughts we can manifest our desires (avoiding suffering). The flip side being of course is that you are also responsible for all the bad things that happen to you including things like genocide or abuse. Again life is not that simple - we live in an interconnected universe - a world in which there are a number of people living their lives whose actions and decisions that impact ours.
So last night I was once again reading James Hollis Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life. Here is what he says about taking responsibility for ourselves. "Growing up means that we take spiritual responsibility for ourselves. No other can define our values, become our authority or protect us from necessary choices. Until we take this responsibility ourselves, we are asking others to be a shelter for our homeless soul." (123) I want to add to this some James Luther Adams "We are fatefully caught in history, both as individuals and members of a group, and we are also able to be creative in history." (The Essential James Luther Adams, 65)
So go back to the idea of re-learning paradox we need to both learn to take responsibility for our lives while understanding that we are not in control of all that will happen to us. We can, do and must make choices in our lives, while understanding that it will not always work out the way we hoped, or even for the best; and that while we are busy making choices, others are too and their choices will impact us. So can we learn to take responsibility without taking all the blame?
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