Responsibility is the fourth building block of the six pillars of civility. Taking responsibility for our commitments is necessary for the society in which we live to survive in a civil way. If we all shirked our responsibilities, chaos would ensue. However, we need to discern what is our responsibility and what is not. Too often we take on the burden of other people’s responsibilities when in fact the matter is none of our business. I know how this works because I am guilty of doing just that. I am naturally a fixer. Fixers tend to meddle inappropriately because we think we can be helpful. This isn’t usually the case however, and such acts most often lead to conflict.
Have you ever noticed how often people fail to take responsibility for their own actions, but rarely hesitate to let other people exactly what they should be doing? Most of us fall prey to this trap from to time. We rationalize this by saying we care about the other person and don’t want them to make the same mistakes we’ve made, or we want to help them save time or money. The fact of the matter is that these challenges are not ours; they are theirs. Just as we learned from making mistakes, so they must be allowed to learn from their mistakes.
As adults, the first real responsibility we have is for our children and ourselves. This includes how we conduct ourselves; how we relate to others; and how we fit into our community. However, even early on in life we are usually given responsibility for helping around the house. Sometimes these tasks are rewarded with a weekly allowance. We take responsibility for certain chores. This teaches us the value of our obligations in our homes. These tasks are not always rewarded with cash, but are simply seen as pulling one’s own weight. Others are relying on us to do something, to be responsible, and we quickly learn that by keeping up our end of the bargain makes for smooth sailing. Letting down our end of the bargain causes grief for us and for others.
Building on the pillars I have previously discussed, when we find ourselves guilty of intruding in someone else’s life, while examining our motives, we need to have compassion for ourselves and for those whom we feel compelled to help. Such impositions usually come with an unhealthy dose of judgment. This is the perfect time to check our humility gauge. This is an important time to be more aware of just how we are affecting someone else. Are we in fact being helpful, or just being nosy, judgmental, and controlling? Are we bullying them into adopting our path, denying them the right to follow their own?
There are times when we do not take responsibility for our actions, nor are we willing to accept the consequences for our actions. How often do we blame others for our own unfortunate situations? This refusal to own up and be prepared to accept the consequences for our actions leads to an unrealistic state. This false existence manifests itself as living a lie or lies, and can cause dishonesty, incivility, and rudeness.
No matter what our situation may be, we almost always share some responsibility, sometimes a lot, sometimes a little; and discovering this unlocks the mysteries to many of life's quandaries.
Of course, there is always an alternate to grabbing too much responsibility for someone else’s predicaments, which is simply 'mind your own business'. As much as we think we know what's best for others, it's not our responsibility to make their choices for them. Allow people to make the choice that is right for them.
In the business arena, misplaced responsibility – as I refer to it – can be disastrous! My best advice is to err on the side of caution. Take as much personal responsibility as is reasonably possible for any situation. And avoid like the plague giving your unsolicited opinion on how others should conduct business or behave. Don’t forget the law of physics that states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This is going to happen whether we force it or not.
Distinguishing between the time to help or not to help is a natural way to take responsibility in any situation. This quality is developed during childhood and adolescence. As parents, one of the greatest gifts we can give our children, or those for whom we care, is the ability to discern the difference between what is our business and what is not. This seems like a simple enough matter, but too often we don’t place a high enough priority on this fundamental principle.
Whether at home or at work, having a clear understanding of the importance of the pillar of responsibility, and acting accordingly, will impact your success, your level of happiness, and the mutual respect we as human beings depend upon so strongly.