I was pondering on the wider implications of responsibility the other day, it being such a vast and never-ending narrative in our everyday life. To take responsibility, or not, is the question here. But the way responsibility is talked about can make it sound like a heavy burden and a threat or punishment even. Who would want a bar of it under these circumstances? On the other side, if we do take responsibility, why would we do it and what does it do, generally and for us?
I was also inspired by the blog Are We Taking Responsibility For Our Own Lives which opened an even wider scope in the responsibility arena and certainly highlighted some dark corners where irresponsibility can hang out, linger and hide.
The following day I discovered that responsibility starts young; I found myself talking to a nine-year-old boy who kept doing what he had been told not to do, repeatedly so. He was part of a group of children and young people on a holiday camp. There had been numerous admonishments from a couple of supervisors who were doing their best to keep everything and everyone in check, but to no avail.
The opportunity arose to take this boy aside and I found myself talking about responsibility to him. Responsibility helped me put his inappropriate and unwanted language and behaviour in a bigger context and all of a sudden, and much to my surprise, he was actually listening. I talked to him about his responsibility towards the younger children and explained that his behaviour had an impact on them; after all, they were aware of what was happening and some looked confused and didn’t know how to relate to him. Did they now think it was okay to swear and carry on, seeing an older boy was not only doing it but seemingly getting away with it?
He looked earnest and was listening and at the end he said “now I understand”. I was surprised how matter of fact he sounded; it was as though he had answered the question “Why would we take responsibility and what does it do?” for himself in that moment and nothing else was needed. There seemed to have been an understanding that taking responsibility unifies and makes us an equal and accountable part of something that is bigger than us.
He then walked away and joined the others who had set up a cricket pitch. He carried himself differently and it even looked like he had grown in stature. The other children readily accepted him into their game as someone they could now relate to and felt no longer alienated by. They obviously enjoyed the game and so did their recruit.
Mind you, the behaviour change didn’t last forever but it did last a while; my feeling was that talking about responsibility had given him a sense of being part of something bigger than himself and that he did get it. As with everything, it will just need more practice.
By Gabriele Conrad, Goonellabah, NSW Australia