Over the last few days, I’ve reflected about responsibility and what it is. All my life, I always felt compelled to be “responsible”. At parties and social events, I would feel “responsible” to be politically correct. I would feel “responsible” to be the peacemaker. I would feel “responsible” to do and say the right things. I would act according to what I think others would approve of or to some unspoken moral and societal code.
Interestingly enough, the more I feel compelled to do so, the more I feel guilty whenever I behave in a way that I feel is not “responsible”. This has served as a life-long conflict for me. Why? I have natural urges and the need to do what satisfies me. Unfortunately, I’ve put others’ satisfaction before my own, thus creating the illusion of being “responsible”. That in itself is the total antithesis of the true definition of “responsibility”. Once I realized that, I took a step back and decided to look at the definition of “responsibility”.
According to the www.thefreedictionary.com, the definition of responsibility is:
1. the state, fact, or quality of being responsible.
2. an instance of being responsible: The responsibility for this mess is yours!
3. a particular burden of obligation upon one who is responsible: the responsibilities of authority.
4. a person or thing for which one is responsible.
At quick glance, the definitions are correct. However, upon closer scrutiny, I noticed that it is actually quite vague and leaves interpretation wide open to the whims of my own mind. Remember, the mind has the ability to construct meaning from circumstances and events. Therefore, if I was taught a certain way to behave and my mind was trained to think a certain way that is tied to my circumstances as opposed to one who was trained to think a different way, the result would be two different interpretations of responsibility.
It is notable that in definition #3, it states “a particular burden of obligation upon one who is responsible”. This is the very definition that has led me astray on many occasions. In situations where I felt circumstances were beyond my control, the only way I could regain control was by being proper and responsible to a degree that I would forget how to have fun, to let loose, or to just be. I would feel compelled to take on the burdens of others in order to quell my fear of losing control. In essence, my ego would take over out of fear.
With that in mind, I now see that being “responsible” is a matter of perception. It is just simply a concept of finishing tasks that you need to do, and to take care of yourself at all times. It does not warrant for us to take on the burdens of others when they are not willing to own up to their actions especially in situations when our egos takes over out of fear. This is illustrated in two examples below:
First example: I am at a meeting and involved in an intense discussion about a sensitive topic. Most of us are able to discuss the matter at hand without getting emotionally involved. However, there are a couple of participants who constantly go on the defensive and would become snappish. This would result in my becoming nervous (out of fear of confrontations) and I would feel compelled to focus on those two and try to keep the situation from becoming volatile and feel the need to take responsibility for their behavior by attempting to correct them or placate them. This is an example of my taking on an unnecessary burden and “owning” the behavior of the two people. Skewed, isn’t it?
Second example: I am involved with a team planning a long-term project and one member is constantly resistant and angry. The member would constantly shoot down everyone else’s ideas and claim that there was no support at all and so on. The result was the atmosphere would become instantly toxic the minute that member walked in. The team recognized this behavior and knew the member was acting in “survival mode” and chose not to engage the negative team member and as a result, the member started to realize she was alone in her objections and slowly changed over to the team’s positive perspective. In this example, no one would “own” that team member’s behavior and stayed on point with the tasks, resulting in reduced attention to the negativity. Now, that is being responsible because the team members chose to take on the burden of finishing tasks related with the project instead of taking on the burden of the toxic member’s feelings and resistance and allowing an “ego war” to happen.
Go out there and be…
- Advice from Your Ego? (tonningsen.wordpress.com)