“You are the responsible one,” my mother would tell me when I would wine about having to reheat dinner for my brother and father when she left for work. “I know you will do it,” she would say. The responsibility of being responsible started early for me. I was eight years old. When mom and dad separated, I made myself responsible for mom’s happiness by being the best son I could be and not to cause her any pain or grief. She had already suffered enough staying with dad until I was old enough to understand (12) even though he had been having an open affair since I was six.
I am a firm believer that there should be a statute of limitations for adults blaming their present situation on childhood drama and I am not placing blame on anyone but myself. I took on responsibility during my youth and young adulthood. The more the better. I do not know if I had anything to prove other than I was capable, but that was a falsehood also. I did not know at the time that I could have said no to responsibility nor did I know that corporations will keep piling it on until you break. That is their modus operandi. How much one could handle was a determining factor in how far one would climb up the ladder.
As far as responsibility, I went through the three stages of development that Friedrich Nietzsche writes about in his work “Thus Spoke Zarathustra.” I was the camel and told everyone to pile on the responsibilities. I was strong. I could handle the heavy burden. I performed this role until my late thirties. Then I transformed into the lion who fiercely fought for my freedom and independence. Everyone wondered what had happened to the camel who was easily controlled. As the lion, I had to fight and eventually slay my nemesis, the dragon, whose bodily armor carried a “Thou Shalt” written across each scale on his body. Each “Thou Shalt” was a rule created to control me as a member of society. I pealed each scale from the dragon, one by one until he was dead. Then I became the child of innocence again. I was free to determine my own rules and responsibilities for my life. I was free of carrying the burden of others that I so freely accepted in my youth. I was once again unbounded by rules and “Thou Shalt” of others.
During these transformations I learned four things about responsibility: Most people in our modern western society are overburdened with responsibilities. This is primarily a result of having too many material things. Our things control us. We become responsible for them. We must maintain them to keep them useful (cars, boats, lawnmowers, etc.) We must plug them in to keep them charged. And when we have more things than space to hold them, we store them rather than pass them on for others to use in anticipation of needing them some day down the road. The Storage industry in America is a multi-billion dollar a year business. Most have no idea what they are storing and rather than going through all of that stuff to find something they now need, we buy a new thing to replace the old thing and keep adding to our responsibility for stuff.
The more stuff you have the greater your responsibilities to material excesses. We even hire people to take care of our stuff so that we can get away from the burden for a week long vacation.There are two types of responsibilities: One can be either be “responsible to” or “responsible for.” In any contract situation, marriage, employment, or society we each have a responsibility to abide by the terms of the contract, spoken and implied. In marriage we promise to love, honor, and obey. These are responsibilities. In employment we have the responsibility to perform according to the needs and decisions of the corporation. In society we have the responsibility to abide by the laws of the state. In all of these cases, there is an exchange shared by all parties of the contract. You do this for me and I will do or provide this for you in return.
In contrast, “responsibility for” is not necessarily a contract between two parties. It is often a self imposed responsibility. One party independently makes themselves responsible for someone or some thing often without the other’s knowledge. As I did with my mother. Taking responsibility for something is not necessarily a bad thing as long as it is done with consciousness, but even then the person being responsible for another may build up resentment toward that person over time. This is especially true if this responsibility prevents him from living his/her own life at some point?
We are responsible for our children until they become old enough to be responsible for themselves. We are responsible for animals we take under our wing. They become totally dependent upon us for their existence. Once you feed an animal, that animal becomes your responsibility. You may ask, “What about caregivers or people who chose to be responsible for others?” Caregivers, like nurses or doctors, have made a conscious choice. One is to be responsible for the people they care for and two, to be responsible to the organization for which they work. Unless you are Mother Theresa or some other saintly person, even the most caring of hearts can become frustrated and overwhelmed by the demands of being “responsible for” can create. “Responsibility for” extracts a great toll upon one’s being. Ask any parent.
At this point in my life, I tend to shun responsibility of all kinds except for myself. In the words of the Little Prince:
If you are to be, you must begin by assuming responsibility. You alone are responsible for every moment of your life, for every one of your acts.
I am no longer the camel saying, “Put your burden upon my back.” I no longer assume other’s choices upon myself. I know at face value this approach seems selfish, and it is. I no longer chose to be responsible for other people’s choices because I am aware of the resentment which build up over time within myself when I am not living the life of my own choosing. I choose to be “responsible for” how the time in this life is used and I protect this time the way a hungry animal protects its kill. That does not mean I won’t do things for my friends because I will out of friendship. It means I am more consciously aware of when I can no longer do things for friends when their choices begin to purge upon my time and life, and hopefully I do this before resentment beings to build.These are three of the things I learned about responsibility. I do not know that they are universal but I have a feeling they are, but most are unaware how much responsibilities take a toll upon their life.
My choices and decisions do not always make other people happy but that is not why I am here. The most important thing I have learned about responsibility is this: I am the only one who is “responsible for” how I live my life and I am the only one “responsible to” myself to ensure I live it the way I choose.