Michael Spaccarotella: Responsibility

The word “responsibility” has so many meanings, definitions and interpretations. In its basic form, the word means having a duty or obligation to do something. The word can be used in the context of identifying jobs, tasks or specific actions that a person or group is charged with within the parameters of career or workplace.

Responsibility in this sense is often clear as to what is expected to be done. Equally clear are the consequences of either fulfilling or failing to complete the responsibilities charged. Responsibility has another huge meaning that often gets blurred, misinterpreted or denied. Responsibility also takes on a human persona in that it means to have a moral obligation to behave correctly.

It is here, once again, where humanity distorts and manipulates what it means to be responsible. We modify and re-define the definition to neatly fit into our already compartmentalized lives. “He’s not acting responsibly”, “Her behavior was irresponsible”, “They are claiming responsibility for such a vicious attack.” Who sets the standard for moral responsibility and behavior? Responsible behavior may vary from culture to culture, but the fundamental components remain the same. I suggest you consider this…At the very core of what it means to be responsible starts with the responsibility to “self”.

If we can’t identify and internalize the meanings of responsibility for ourselves, how can we possibly begin to understand it on a societal or even global scale? We live in a world that moves at an ever increasing pace. We want something and we expect to receive immediately if not sooner. We have become conditioned to receive news and information at real-time speed and we want all the facts in short order. How many times have we viewed an event unfolding somewhere in the world and the media is already suggesting who may be responsible? How can this be and why have we come to believe we are entitled to know things immediately? We have become desensitized to the humanity and morality of irresponsible as well as responsible behavior and simply want to know where to “point the finger” so we can move on to the next event and repeat the process.

Here’s something to ponder…Perhaps the finger should be pointed in the mirror? Now there’s a scary proposition. Stripped bare and listening to my heart of hearts, am I a responsible person? We all like to believe we are, but dig a little deeper for a change and let your heart speak to you. Some faith communities call this an “examination of conscience”. It’s a process of stripping away the layers of the “onion skin” to reveal who we are. A delicate process that at times can bring us to an uncomfortable place. A place with answers we already have to questions we are reluctant to ask. We simply need to open the door to reveal them.

Examination of conscience is a polar opposite of split-second finger pointing and accusations. In fact, there’s no finger pointing at all. Nor is there a compulsion to pin responsibility on he, she, or they. Examining one’s conscience is very personal and revelatory and provides an opportunity for personal growth. If I were to examine my life from the perspective of; morality, honesty, truth, compassion, charity and mercy, what might I discover? How do I measure up? We call these virtues. They can be cardinal or theological. They set standards for righteousness and excellence of behavior in humanity. To identify with these virtues is to act responsibly thereby becoming a responsible individual. There’s no reason to finger point.

We may never achieve a level of being fully moral, or of living a virtuous life, but the process of striving to achieve such aspirations will only grow us as people. In its most altruistic form, demonstrating these behaviors in our everyday lives, in the company of others, is one of the most responsible forms of behavior we can share. Responsibility begins with self.