Have you ever heard someone respond to the question, “Why hasn’t this mess been cleaned up?” by saying, “That’s not my responsibility.” Responsibility is taking ownership of your behavior and the consequences of that behavior. Until you accept responsibility for your actions or failures, it’ll be very difficult for you to develop self-respect or even have the respect of others.

Psychologist Elizabeth Wagele says that responsibility means feeling it’s your duty to deal with what comes up, being accountable, and/or being able to act independently and make decisions without authorization. There are both moral and personal responsibilities.

Responsibility is having common sense, authority, leadership, and maturity; being reliable, trustworthy, dependable, and answerable. But we don’t all express our ability to be responsible in the same way. Wagele then points out how some people respond to their responsibilities and how it relates to others. For instance, there are Perfectionist who sometimes feel overly-responsible for their own or others’ behavior. This type includes a desire to improve self and others (to be good learners and teachers) and to worry about how things are going. Often these types of people are hard to get along with.

Then there are Achievers who often feel responsible for getting ahead in the world and for leading others to get things done. Their responsibility includes presenting a favorable image that will enhance others’ respect for them. But they can easily become Dreamers who feel responsible to themselves for honoring and expressing feelings and values and for finding beauty in life. If they slip up on their responsibilities, they are likely to feel ashamed.

Included in this list are Observers. They often have high ideals but are not as likely as most other types to push their ideals on others. They feel responsible to themselves, and sometimes to others, for determining what’s logical. Some psychologists define responsibility as being in the spell of the superego. They are joined by Questioners who keep looking for all the dangers in life. They look for bad things that might happen and try to avoid mishaps. Being loyal to others is one way of ensuring their own safety. Some explain that their security is built around responsibility. They realize the security within them is a gift of freedom for them and the people in their life.

And then there are Adventurers who often feel responsible for assuring the right conditions in which they live and play. Many feel responsible from a young age for staying happy themselves and for making other people happy. Right next to them are Asserters who feel responsible for enforcing rules and for standing up for they believe is truth and justice. They use their considerable strength to inform and protect others.

And then there are the Peace Seekers who feel a personal responsibility for promoting inclusion and fairness. They may have grown up with strict parents and considered responsibility an unknowable and undoable obligation. Eventually they realize they were taking responsibility for others as a matter of honor – but not for themselves. When they realized maturity meant taking responsibility for themselves, there was no going back.

You may be trying to identify yourself in this group. You may be like psychologist Jennifer Hamady who was always intrigued by the word ‘responsibility’ and how often it gets confused with blame, which of course implies that someone or something is at fault for a given situation. And it always has a judgmental flavor to it; no one opens up their arms and says, ‘bring on the blame!’  Quite the contrary… while many love to give it, they’re dislike getting it and will do almost anything to keep the hot potato of fault as far away from themselves as possible. 

Responsibility, on the other hand, is something vastly more powerful, as well as empowering. As the language suggests, it is a ‘responseability:’ the capability to choose our response in every moment to all that is going on around us.  A choosing that allows us to claim ownership of the circumstances of our lives, and thereby, to contribute to making them better.

Then psychologist Robert J. Burrows talks about the delusion, “I am not responsible.” He says that such a lack of understanding cripples a substantial portion of the human population in ways that work against the possibility of achieving worthwhile outcomes for themselves, other individuals, communities and the world as a whole. So why does this happen and how does it manifest?

In essence, says Burrows, if a person is frightened by the circumstances of others or a particular set of events, their fear will often unconsciously delude them into believing and behaving as if they bear no responsibility for playing a part in addressing the problem. This fear works particularly easily when the person or people concerned believe that the problem is too far away for them to be responsible, or when the events occur outside their neighborhood. But it can also be expressed when the problem is close by, even in their home or at work.

Finally, DeAara Lewis, a freelance communications strategist and video/print journalist asks, have you ever gotten into an argument with someone and the error in their actions were as clear as night and day, but yet they would not admit any responsibility?  They made excuses or had a reason for everything they did, no matter who they violated in the process.  Or it was never their fault, it is ALWAYS somebody else.  Most of their relationships are chaotic.  They glorify and then quickly demonize someone and have a strong case of grandiose delusions. In psychotherapy, this is often labeled as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NARC).  One of the main characteristics is the unwillingness of them to see the part they play in conflict or take responsibility for their actions.  Most of us know someone like this or perhaps have done this ourselves.

Taking responsibility is very tough because often times an abundance of shame comes with that.  Who wants to be the culprit or the reason someone else is hurt or some conflict is going on?  It’s easy to point the finger at others, it is tougher to point the finger back at ourselves. This is something we all struggle with – people who cannot see their part in a conflict.  It burns me up, says Lewis, and sends me into a rage and I have to work through this. You don’t have to like it, but you can’t control them or their behavior.  And if other people choose to believe this person without further investigation, there really isn’t much you can do about that either.  However, you can take some lessons.  Now you know these people are easily persuaded, probably meddle in gossip, and you’ll do better to stay away from them.

But what does the Word of God say about responsibility? Jesus told an excellent story that dealt with responsibility. Be like house servants waiting for their master to come back from his honeymoon, said the Master, awake and ready to open the door when he arrives and knocks. Lucky the servants whom the master finds on watch! He’ll put on an apron, sit them at the table, and serve them a meal, sharing his wedding feast with them. It doesn’t matter what time of the night he arrives; they’re awake – and so blessed!

Peter said, “Master, are you telling this story just for us? Or is it for everybody?” The Master said, “Let me ask you: What makes a manager dependable? It’s someone full of common sense that the master puts in charge of his staff to feed them well and on time? He is a blessed man if when the master shows up, he’s doing his job. But if he says to himself, ‘The master is certainly taking his time,’ begins maltreating the servants and maids, throws parties for his friends, and gets drunk, the master will walk in when he least expects it, give him the beating of his life, and put him back in the kitchen peeling potatoes.

The servant who knows what his master wants and ignores it, or disrespectfully does whatever he pleases, will be thoroughly punished. But if he does a poor job through ignorance, he’ll get off with a slap on the hand. Great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities! That’s why the Apostle Paul said that while you are helping others, don’t forget to take responsibility for your own actions.[1] In another place, Paul says that if you plant a seed you must take responsibility for watering it.[2]

So, even though something happens because someone did not take their responsibilities seriously that can be detrimental to you and those around you, don’t brush it off by saying, “That’s not my responsibility.” Be like the medical doctor who was a passenger on a flight when a serious health problem developed with one of the passengers and the stewardess was asking if there was anybody who could help. If you have the talent and ability to do the job, take responsibility. There will be many who will thank you for standing up and taking responsibility for the outcome. – Dr. Robert R Seyda

[1] Galatians 6:5

[2] 1 Corinthians 3:8

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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