The word responsibility has two very different meanings which we tend to confuse with one another rather too often.
I find this unfortunate and hope that in this short video as well as its corresponding podcast episode in Farsi I can help you distinguish between the two; tell them apart.
The first and more common sense of the word responsibility is very well illustrated in an example like saying ‘Joe is responsible for this accident.’ What am I saying here? That the accident occuredbecause of Joe’s actions; because he chose to behave in a certain way; or perhaps even, because of something that he failed to do like ‘driving carefully enough.’
This type of responsibility has a focus on past causality. And it’s usually associated with some sort of punishment.
Joe is at fault. He is to blamefor what happened so he has to pay for it.
But, the second meaning of responsibility is much more exciting and empowering. (It focuses on present agency.)
It’s when I acknowledge that I’m in a unique position to create a change in my own life. No matter how difficult, no matter how unfair.
It’s when somebody says: I undertake the challenging task of lifting myself up.
Of course this statement is very easy to misinterpret so allow me to take a minute and explain what it DOESN’T mean:
A) It does not mean that we won’t need help. We are human beings. Cooperation is our defining characteristic. Of course, we will help from other people in every domain of life; in education, in business, in family. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But at the end of the day, it is us who should ask for that help, find it, and sometimes pay for it.
B) Self-responsibility also does not mean I can control everything. There are forces in this world that are too large or too small for me to have any control over. For example, I didn’t choose my parents. Nobody can decide where they are born, or in which country or under which government. And more to the point, we have no control over what almost 8 billion other people do on this planet every day.
And C) Lifting myself up is not the same as being too selfish or stepping on other people. If anything, the highest level of self-responsibility is when I feel so strong, when I’m so happy, when I’m so attuned to the world around me that my well-being starts to affect other people in a positive way.
Responsibility in this second sense means that there is no one who can have as much interest in or as much influence on my life and the improvement of my life as I can.