Thursday, March 22, 2012


I set out tonight to continue some semantic games related to some of the posts on "Safe from Shame".  But I've run into some trouble.  I'm not sure what "taking responsibility" means.

Is taking responsibility simply doing what we've agreed to do?  I'm sure many parents of children would agree to that.  "Let's get Jimmy a dog, it will teach him to take responsibility."  But that's just 'duty' masquerading under another name.

Is "taking responsibility" accepting that our actions have consequences?  That seems rather trivial.  Of course, or actions have consequences.  Those consequences tend to have their effects no matter whether we are willing to accept them or not.  There's no way to avoid the consequences of our actions.  We are floating in a pond that none of us can escape from; the ripples that stem from all of our movements will come back to us sooner or later, reflected off our surroundings.  There's no way out of the pond, no way to avoid them.  Karma is unmindful, undiscriminating, and relentless.  It will come and find you, no matter where you hide.

So is "taking responsibility" really "taking the blame"?  I suppose.  Everyone wants people to own up to their actions.  But is this really the full picture?  After all, no one person acts in isolation.  We are immersed in a world, acting on the stimuli we recieve and the motivations that well up from the subconscious.  Very rarely is one person entirely to blame, as catastrophes are so often several people acting in concert, either knowing or unwitting to the parts they play.

As well, "taking the blame" suggests that we are all free to act or not act as we would choose.  We are constrained by the situation in which we find ourselves.  Although the player is free to make any legal move, only a few moves are strategically viable, and in the worst case one alone is forced.  And sometimes there is no good move available, and a piece must be sacrificed for the good of the rest.

Then there's the old adage, "fix the problem, not the blame".  Knowing who to blame isn't nearly as useful as correcting or resolving the problem.  So often, the issue becomes passing the buck and trying to avoid getting hided that nothing ever gets fixed.  So is "taking responsibility" taking the blame just so something can get done?  That seems rather petty.

Even then, there is no way to predict the consequences of any action.  We can guess, but we are imperfect creatures with a limited viewpoint.  There is much we don't know.  Life isn't simple Newtonian physics, life is complex socio-dynamics, a game played with limited information, no assumption of rational players, and no clarity on the end goals.  There is simply no way to predict the consequences of any action, either in the short term or in the long term.

So let's look at the roots of 'responsibility'.  In short, it's the ability to respond.  We act.  If bad things happen, and we can do something about them, we should.  We should respond when it is in our ability to do so.  Is that 'responsibility'?

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