I went on a course recently and one of the questions we were asked was “Who or what do you feel responsible for?” It sounds easy enough, but if you take a minute to think about it, it’s more complicated than you might first imagine. Why should you feel responsible for one thing and not another, or for one person and not another? What makes you feel that responsibility? It was tough stuff for a Saturday morning, I can tell you!
Responsibility, we were told, is an ability to respond in a way that makes things better. I like that. I like the idea of making things better, because there are many things about our communities and our lives that are unfair or wasteful or missing. You hear people say, “It’s not my responsibility,” but actually, we all have a choice over whether we want it to be or not.
Small daughter was watching a TV advert for sponsorship for a snow leopard. I think she was more impressed with the stuffed toy that came with the sponsorship certificate, but it was an opportunity to talk about how we must take responsibility for not allowing animals to become extinct. Big daughter and I took part in the Race For Life earlier in the year, and stood in a crowd of 11,000 women all wanting to do their small part to raise money for cancer research – a huge visual reminder of what responsibility can look like. If each of those women only raised £1, that’s still an awful lot of money to help people (like my Dad) survive cancer each year. The dog came with us too and we completed the course in record time as he hurtled after a Border Collie; he may stay at home next year!
There are so many ways that we can take responsibility and it’s important to remember that it’s not the same as accountability. Being responsible doesn’t mean taking the blame, it means stepping up to make things better. Since I’ve really thought about what the word means, I’ve found that I haven’t felt obliged to take things on that I didn’t want to. I’ve remembered that I always have a choice and that knowledge has allowed me to feel differently about many of the tasks of my day.
So what’s the answer to the question? What or who do we feel responsible for? You probably have your own answer, but on my course we finally agreed that we feel responsible for things that directly affect us, whether that’s somebody upsetting your child at school, picking up litter from the front of your house or campaigning to keep a bus stop. And if we feel responsibility in this way, then so too must everybody else, and however small our actions, they do make a difference. We all have the ability to respond in a way to make things better.