Responsible ______

Image Description: Small, white pieces of paper with text that reads, “Responsibility,” “Duty,” “Accountability,” “Liability,” and other words that are not fully in view. Public domain image.

Two phrases popped into my mind. I hadn’t thought about them in a long time, but years ago, I read them in a book and found this to be a helpful framing.

When we think about responsibility, it’s helpful to remember that there is a difference between being responsible for and responsible toward.

Very often, we feel responsible for that which isn’t ours and that which we didn’t cause. We take on other people’s emotional states. We believe it is our responsibility to “fix” others. We believe that if someone is in a difficult mood, it must be our fault. We take responsibility for that which isn’t ours.

We are not responsible for these, but we are responsible for our own actions and emotions. And of course, we also can respond other’s needs with care.

As we think about responding, I think a better framing involves being responsible toward. We have a responsibility to live our values and be our best selves. We send these toward interpersonal needs and collective needs. We will also fail at this. But we can come back to these values continually.

There are many things in the world that need our care and attention. In these, we need collective action too. We are responsible toward them. We didn’t always cause them (caveat, that we’re sometimes complicit collectively) but if we are to live our values and seek to be our best selves in community, we will need to act.

In some types of instances, I hope that we will feel freed from being responsible for, and in others, I hope that we will feel empowered to be responsible toward.

Renee Roederer

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