Monday, March 23, 2015

Responsible TO, not Responsible FOR

I'm one of the "Moral Focus Coaches" at my older kids' school. It's just a volunteer thing - parents teach a little lesson on the monthly character trait once a week. I love it. I love teaching the lessons, being with the kids, and I love that the whole school does the same trait at the same time.

So this month, the word is "Responsibility." Sounds great. Maybe this will be the month my 2nd grader remembers that it's his responsibility to bring home his homework folder every day. (seriously - the child forgets it at least twice a week! Lord help us). I love Responsibility! We use Love & Logic a lot at home and the main idea behind L&L is raising responsible kids. 

But as I read the official definition of the word, I felt like something was missing.

Sure. Being responsible means I take care of my own stuff; I do what I'm supposed to do; I admit to my own mistakes and try to fix them. All of that is true.

But on some level, aren't we responsible TO each other? Maybe I'm not responsible FOR you - I can't make your choices, force you to do or not do something. I can't rescue you from the consequences of your actions.  But doesn't responsibility also connect me to someone else? The definition above seems to start and end with me. But I think we have a responsibility TO our community, TO the people with whom we share our world. Don't we?

I fear that Responsibility as an American value has become an individualized trait. I am responsible FOR me. Period. End of Story. While this is true in many ways (I can't control a single person other than myself), I fear what happens when "Being Responsible" is all about me.

I can do my own thing, take care of me and mine, focus on what I need to do. And life, for me and my family, would probably be okay. 

But what about my community, my world? The world I'm leaving for my kids, grandkids, and their children? Am I not responsible to the lives I touch? If I don't take responsibility to leave this world a better place, who will?

I think about the folks who are homeless that I see every week when I volunteer at our local day shelter. Am I not responsible TO them somehow? I am a person of means, with access to resources. While I can't make their choices for them, I can be responsible for treating them with compassion. I can't rescue them from the consequences of their actions, but I can be there when they need to talk, help them find the open doors to services, volunteer to make sure no one freezes outside on a cold night because there was nowhere else for them to go. I don't want to live in a compassionless community. Aren't we responsible for that? 

I think about the children in Swaziland. Are we not responsible TO our brothers & sisters across the planet? People, fellow human beings, are starving. They don't have access to medical care. Yet I have enough to eat; I can go to the doctor anytime I want. Emergency rooms can't turn me away.  I suppose I could say, "that's not my problem." But why would we do that? I don't want to be that kind of person. 

I think about women and children being trafficked in the sex trade. If we know it's happening, aren't we responsible to act? Because if we don't... who will? Do we want to live in a world where we know this is happening, yet don't care enough to do something about it? If the answer is no, then aren't we responsible TO act on their behalf?

And what about our fellow humans being forced to work in slave conditions in factories world-wide. We are the consumers of the products made by their hands. Doesn't this give us some responsibility? I eat chocolate; my money pays the chocolate companies. Aren't I responsible, at least a little, for making sure I don't purchase chocolate that was harvested by children who were trafficked into slavery? And my clothing? I buy & wear clothes... doesn't that link me to the hands that made my clothing? If I'm not responsible TO them somehow, then I guess it doesn't matter if I buy clothing made by slaves. But that's just not okay with me.

Right here, in my own community, people are being mistreated. We hear stories of racism every day. I don't want to raise my children in a racist society. But is it enough just for ME not to be racist? What about working towards equality? Aren't I responsible TO my fellow humans who say they've been oppressed? If I say I'm against oppression, there must be a responsibility that follows... right?

I would love to live in a community where being responsible TO each other is highly valued. I would love to see this become an American value: having compassion for one another, caring for one another to the extent that we feel responsible TO one another.. To be a truly great nation, we need to see and hear our most oppressed groups and take on the responsibility of solving the problems. Individualism isn't bad... but I think we can do something greater.

There's a big difference between being Responsible FOR and Responsible TO. And maybe I'm not responsible FOR anyone other than myself and my family. That's okay. But friends... let's be responsible TO each other. What a wonderful world that would be.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful. I can definitely agree that this is a HUGE problem in out individualistic society. Keep spreading the Word!


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