Conversations around responsibility are often interesting: are we talking about looking back and assigning a form of blame; looking forward and saddling people with a sense of foreboding; or placing them in the present with empowering, but realistic, expectations of their capacity?
If we’re looking back, it’s pretty much a given that we’re going to find imperfection. To my eyes, life’s often a path from ignorance to understanding as we learn from mistakes to correct those things we didn’t know (see Notes One). Western thinking apparently wants to look back and see only cause for pride – life as an unbroken chain of our perfect efforts – but realities seem more flawed.
In that light, do we resign ourselves to letting the past dictate our future? Is that past, the things it set in motion, something we cannot alter through admission of error or new perspective? Is the ego too fragile or sense of vengeance too strong to allow anyone to step out from an imperfect past and make something good from lessons learnt the hard way?
As I said, it’s just interesting. Because it applies across the board in life: personally, socially, collectively we’re in all these situations that have a past that’s often somewhat questionable. Decisions were made based on the best understanding of the time; plans might’ve been put in place, hoping to guide things wisely; then, reality played itself out.
Within all that there’s so much scope for error. In big or little ways these things can drift off track through how people came to interact with them, things that might’ve been overlooked, or new realities such solutions are having to contend with. We’re then left in these flawed situations that, arguably, someone’s responsible for.
If that’s the case, what’s the right response? The past effectively put us here; through our fault or someone else’s. If it’s ours, do we write ourselves off as incapable? If theirs, do we leave it in their hands and suffer through the imperfection? The one who does something generally risks being made responsible so, logically, we might be better off doing nothing. At least then we can’t be blamed.
But where does that lead? Fears of being mistaken or held accountable seem to risk dependency or passivity, where we might claim it’s not our problem. Leaving things to others, to ‘professionals’ or the protection of consumer relationships, we can avoid that risk of responsibility and rest ‘safely’ behind inaction. Life itself then incapacitates us: initiative becomes strangled by fear if we don’t attempt anything new.
Life’s surely a set of systems we all play our part in (Notes Two). And thought’s funny in that it doesn’t always help us find the right paths (Notes Three). But while we mightn’t have caused the situations we find ourselves in, not taking ownership of them seems to tap on the door of human agency and responsibility. Remaining passive, we might avoid accountability; but, as a link in the chain, does that help make anything better?
Notes and References:
Note 1: Starting over in life
Note 1: Making adjustments
Note 1: The dignity & power of a human life
Note 1: Dealing with imperfection
Note 2: Interdependency
Note 2: Having boundaries
Note 2: Finding flaws
Note 3: The philosopher stance
Note 3: Strange arrogance of thought
Note 3: Codes of behaviour