A quick thought on Responsibilities
How it started
A few days ago I was discussing with my good friend Nathan (check out his website) about what it means to be a Man. At one point I recounted an experience I had when my eldest was born. When my first child was born, it dawned on me how much she needed me. It was a complete change of mentality on my part. My wife and I had been married for a few years, and while I obviously felt a deep love and obligation to my wife, I knew that she didn’t need me. If something were to happen to me, she would miss me, but she would be able to go on. It was holding my daughter that I realized that there was someone who needed me.
It was that understanding and acceptance of responsibility that really gave me some maturity. I started to look at some of the more foolish risks I had been taking, and re-evaluated some of my habits.
After telling Nate this story, he wisely noted that responsibility is a key aspect of manhood. He noted that you could think of the word “responsibility” meaning the “ability to respond”. I liked that a lot, but would like to give it my own flair.
What is responsibility
The word responsibility is often couched as an obligation. “I’m responsible for the servers at work”, “The commander is responsible for his unit”, or “I’m responsible for my own actions”. While each of those imply certain duties and obligations, one of them almost goes unnoticed. That is the obligation to ensure you have the capacity to respond to those needs. In short we have both the obligation to discharge those duties, and the obligation to ensure we are able to discharge those duties.
Perhaps that seems like a distinction without a difference, but in my mind it struck differently. One implies merely accomplishing an objective. The other implies developing skills, taking care of our selves and doing all that is necessary to ensure we have the ability to accomplish the objective.
As an example, that I hope illuminates the difference: Often we think of things in a results oriented way. Did we achieve what we set out to do? If person is in a car accident, do we immediately say they were driving irresponsibly? Probably not. (Ok if you are the instructors that taught my Drivers Ed class in high school, you might actually say “yes”.) First we would want to get some additional information. How did the accident occur? What is your past record as a driver? With this more detailed information we would be more willing to draw conclusions on how responsible you were driving.
Now some people my balk at this as being “soft”. Surely if someone fails at something they didn’t live up to their responsibilities. I would counter that those people are twice wrong. First, failure is an inevitable part of life. The idea that we would be successful in every thing we do either indicates our complete detachment from reality or an absolute refusal to take any risks. Neither are desirable traits.
Secondly, I believe this standard is much harder to live up to. There are a lot of drivers who are reckless 1 yet make it by daily without accident, often due to the responsible drivers around them. In other words, just as failure can happen to anyone, sometimes people succeed in spite of all that they do to thwart it. I’ll grant that this is less common, but the point stands that achievement, while useful evidence, cannot be the end all. What I’m proposing is that rather than gauging responsibility off one data-point, we look at the host of points that lead up to it.
Does that mean we can be more forgiving? Yes, it means we allow room for failure, but it also means that we need to be more cognizant of our own character and abilities. It puts the emphasis on consistency.
So Why do I care?
I care because I think it’s important for society to have men. And I mean men who are men. Ones who are working to cultivate the skills, habits and virtues needed to be responsible.
I know some people may take exception that I have focused my writing towards manhood. It’s not as a way to indicate that women don’t have responsibilities, I just think that young men, in particular, need to be told that they have responsibilities, but more importantly, they need to be shown how to become men who can fulfill them. And I think that duty falls to other men, who can be role models and mentors.
I’m trying a slightly different format of writing. It’s mostly me exploring thoughts. This often means that I might miss something, or be mistaken, or end up changing my mind. But by writing, I’m hoping to work through some deeper thoughts in my mind.
Pun… Appreciated ↩︎