How far does responsibility stretch? Your own life and actions? Care for your immediate family? Your extended family? As a parent, you might imagine that your job is done when the kids leave home. But they keep coming back! And the family keeps getting larger. Now your family includes grandkids, and in-laws and their extended family. Is extended family the extent of your responsibility? Do you have a responsibility to your communities, to your nation, or beyond your nation and even beyond the species? Pushing it even further, do you have a responsibility to future generations?
I saw a bumper sticker that said, “I am responsible for all my actions, except the ones that are someone else’s fault.”
During the early stages of the economic crisis in 2008, Oscar Rogers did a skit on Saturday Night Live called “Fix it”. He said there was a simple solution to the problem- FIX IT. He said there were three steps to the solution.
3. FIIIIIIIX IT
He said the light at the end of the tunnel had broken, and “somebody needs to crawl down to the end of that tunnel and FIX IT!”
It was a comment on what many of us were doing; pointing fingers, ascribing blame and waiting for someone to FIX IT. If this long, drawn out crisis has taught us anything, it surely must be that no one person and no one thing will fix this situation. It will require a lot of people taking responsibility over a long period of time to fix it.
The current “Occupy Wall St” movement is an interesting case in point. To the extent that it is calling for EVERYONE, including corporate America, to take responsibility for the economy, then it is healthy. If it is just the latest opportunity to point fingers and avoid personal responsibility, then it’s a distraction. Personal responsibility is forward looking. Blame is backward looking.
It seems to be human nature to expect someone else to FIX IT. “Somebody do something” is the victim’s mantra. Susan Jeffers said, “Are you a “victim,” or are you taking responsibility for your life?” I keep Oscar Roger’s voice in my head whenever I lapse into thinking like a victim. Waiting for someone else to FIX IT is a powerless perspective.
But where are the boundaries? Where does responsibility start and finish? From one perspective EVERYTHING that arises is coming out of your awareness. There is nothing other than your awareness. So from that perspective, you are responsible for everything that arises. Your awareness reveals that you are connected, all the way back and all the way forward, from east to west, north to south. No action is isolated, and no person is separate from the whole, so taking responsibility for yourself IS taking responsibility for the whole, and taking responsibility for the whole IS taking responsibility for yourself. This is a challenging thought.
There was a therapist in Hawaii who claimed to be healing the most damaged psychiatric patients without even seeing them. He would look at their charts, and do distance healing with the ancient Hawaiian technique called ho’oponopono. He said that everything he read on their charts represented something within himself that needed healing. When he healed those parts of himself, he healed the patients. In his words, he said, “I was healing the part of me that created them.” He used phrases like I’m sorry and I love you. According to many reports, the hospital was completely transformed at the same time as he was performing his distance healing.
You may be a skeptic, or a believer. That’s not important for this current topic. The important thing is that there is at least a partial truth in the therapist’s approach. We can ALL take MORE responsibility for what we see as broken in the world than we generally do. Let me explain by way of a simple but powerful story.
A young girl is badgering her father who is trying to read the paper. He becomes so exasperated that, in a fit of desperation, he tears a picture of a map of the world out of the paper, cuts it up in pieces and sets the girl the challenge of putting it back together again. Much to his surprise she comes back to him quickly with the map all in place. The father asks her how she put it together so quickly. At this point the girl turns the paper over and shows that the other side has a picture of a man on it. “I put the man together,” she said, “and the world came out all right.”
The best way you can take responsibility for what you see as broken in the world, is to take responsibility for putting yourself back together, healing all the broken places and becoming a healthy, functioning human being. The more you put yourself right, the more the world will come out right.
This is the inner work of change. We need outer actions too. But it begins with the inner work. Before occupying Wall Street, protestors would do well to occupy their own consciousness to make sure they are acting with personal mastery before expecting it of others.
As long as there is something you can do to address problems in the world, you can take responsibility. And there is ALWAYS something you can do. Therefore you can ALWAYS take responsibility; both by tending to the broken places inside of yourself, and also healing the holes in the world.
The Dalai Lama said,
Today, more than ever before, life must be characterized by a sense of Universal responsibility, not only nation to nation and human to human, but also human to other forms of life.
To recap the series on personal responsibility, I looked at four issues.
1. Response-Ability- What is personal responsibility? Learn to take responsibility for both your successes and challenges.
2. Empathy and Responsibility- The level of your responsibility will mostly match your level of care or empathy.
3. Spirituality and Responsibility- Take responsibility for your own spiritual path, your beliefs and destiny.
4. Responsibility and Awareness- Your responsibility stretches as far as your awareness reaches.