Responsibility can be scary. Just ask George Castanza. In the Seinfeld episode (The Wink) Jerry squirts grapefruit juice in George’s eye and he ends up with an involuntary wink that inadvertently gains him a promotion. Hi boss, Mr Steinbrenner, in his customary position with back to the camera, and talking nonstop describes the extra responsibility to George.
Steinbrenner: George, Morgan’s out, you’re in.
Steinbrenner: A lot more work you know.
George: I know.
Steinbrenner: A lot more responsibility. Long, long hours.
George: I know.
Steinbrenner: Not much more money. But you’ll finally get the recognition you deserve.
George: That’s what I’m afraid of. You know Mr. Steinbrenner, . . .
We ALL have moments when we are afraid of being recognized. As Marianne Williamson wrote,
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous, (responsible)? Actually, who are you not to be?
What if someone recognized you for who you are? What if your talent, competence, brilliance, wisdom, strength and creativity were exactly what the world needs? You might feel compelled to stand out and put your skills to full use. Well, you have exactly what the world needs, and you CAN make a difference….without fear. You don’t have to solve all of the world’s problems or leap tall buildings in a single bound. Just express compassion in your unique ways and that will be enough. It all comes down to whether your concern is stronger than your fear.
The more you own the challenges, your own and others, the more responsible you feel, and the more you will override your self limiting, “who am I to think I could make a difference?” mentality. It’s time to be recognized, stand up, and shine.
Responsibility and Ownership
Personal responsibility is based in ownership. Parents will relate to this. When our kids are young, we give them chores that we don’t really need help with. In fact it would often be easier to do them ourselves. It’s not about the chores. It’s about ownership and responsibility. If you have ever been on a team building seminar, a retreat or mission trip, you know that events like that have as much to do with ownership as they do with specific tasks and plans. The same truth applies to democratic elections and taxes. You might doubt that your single vote or your measly taxes will make any difference. But they do. You vote and you pay taxes to build a sense of ownership and to create a habit of personal responsibility. Mind you, it’s only the first step. But it is a step in the right direction.
The notion of first responders has become more widely used since 9/11. Apply it personally. What is your first response when a problem arises? If your first response is to look around for someone to blame, then you likely aren’t taking responsibility. Imagine if the 9/11 first responders had demanded a full investigation of the attacks before digging in the rubble. Instead, they jumped straight in, took responsibility for what they could do, and left the investigation to others. The measure of personal responsibility is that your first response is to ask, what can I do to help this situation? What can I do to ease the suffering, my own and others? What can I do to improve my own situation and the situation of others?
Your first response will give you a clue as to whether you are taking personal responsibility or not. The next question is, how much responsibility are you taking? Responsibility is like the force of water from a shower head. It comes with different pressure levels. You can opt for a trickle or the power stream. In another Seinfeld episode (The Shower Head) Kramer buys a black market shower head that was used for washing elephants at the circus. The pressure is so strong that it knocks him out of the shower, in true Kramer style. You don’t have to go to that extreme, but choose to draw upon your strongest inner power response- the one full of passionate, personal responsibility.
Responsibility and Empathy
How much ownership do you feel of a problem? You can measure that by working out how much you are prepared to sacrifice to create a solution. This is important in relation to many of the problems we are facing in the world today.
The same principle applies to any issue, personal or social. Whether it’s an area of your life where you find yourself personally stuck, a relationship challenge, climate change or a struggling economy, how far are you prepared to go to be part of the solution? If you want to heal a broken relationship, make some radical changes to your behavior. If you want to solve your personal financial crisis, radically change your lifestyle. If you want to start to reverse ecological damage, radically change your consumption. If you are serious about helping suffering children, take some radically steps.
The measure of your personal responsibility is ownership. The measure of ownership is empathy. How deeply do you feel pain, your own and others? As long as your motivation to ease suffering is greater than your fear of responsibility, you will take action.
In 1980, Cari Lightner was 13 years old. She was killed by a drunk driver while walking on a sidewalk. What happened next was an illustration of the two extremes of personal responsibility. The drunk driver left her to die while he fled the scene, a cowardly act completely lacking in responsibility. Cari’s mother Candice, on the other hand, was the epitome of personal responsibility. We can only imagine her pain? This situation was totally out of her control. She didn’t cause it, and she couldn’t have prevented it. But she chose a self empowered path. She started the group MOTHERS AGAINST DRUNK DRIVING (MADD). Through the group’s advocacy work, they have helped to lower the number of fatalities due to drink driving from 26,000 in 1982 to 16,000 in 2005. Because one woman took personal responsibility in a tragic situation, 10,000 lives are saved EVERY year.
Candice Lightner lives by the motto, IF IT IS TO BE, IT IS UP TO ME. She could have become angry and bitter. Instead she chose a path with heart, owned the situation in the most powerful way and took responsibility. What an inspiration for all of us! When you take responsibility, lives are saved, beginning with your own. Take a close look at what drives your motivation? What is your first response to challenge? You have within you all that you need to make an awesome contribution to the challenges in the world; all the passion, all the wisdom, all the empathy, and all the skill.
As Leo Buscaglia once said,
Don’t waste a second asking, ‘Why isn’t the world a better place?’ The question to ask is ‘How can I make it better?’ To that there is an answer.
The answer begins with your next thought. With your next thought, everything changes. Make sure it’s a thought that includes personal responsibility. The best thing is that responsibility is contagious. Your empowered life will automatically give others permission to shine as well. Then positive change will become inevitable. Your move!