Responsibility and the Bigger Picture

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

Related Reading:
Gardening Leave? Meh.
Life and Love and My Responsibility in it
Re-claiming the Responsibility of Being a Parent

824 thoughts on “Responsibility and the Bigger Picture

  1. “It will just need more practice.” I can very much relate to this today. The pull of responsibility constantly asks me to consider the whole, everyone, and this then constantly presents to me behaviors that I do that don’t actually support the level of responsibility I now feel. The practice is in honestly letting these behaviours fall away in line of the bigger picture.

    1. ..’the behaviours that I do that don’t support the level of responsibility I now feel’..are we holding onto those behaviours because we have a picture of what responsibility looks like that we use to not go there and be responsible? Becoming more aware of the behaviours and pictures we’re holding onto that get in the way of us living more of ourselves, and letting ourselves be who we truly are, is the key to start to let them go, and let ourselves just be.

  2. It can be in the everyday simple things that taking responsibility can go amiss. With an attitude ‘I’m much quicker doing it myself’ or ‘there’s such a mess when my child makes his own sandwiches’ it is no wonder that we don’t encourage our children to take responsibility but I am seeing that in the long run supporting our children to take responsibility without a shadow of a doubt teaches them to look after and care for themselves and others.

    1. I have noticed that as well – those shortcuts of doing things so it goes quicker or is less messy do not work in the long run and stand in the way of raising responsible and committed adults.

  3. I love the line; ‘as with everything it will just need more practice’. How true Gabrielle, if we are responsible and practice the things that are true and loving.

    1. And why not practise what is true and responsible rather than always resorting to what is false and irresponsible, just because we can?

  4. We under estimate that how connected children are and when we talk to them, give them space and get them to understand about responsibility, they know and they do connect, I have this experience with children within families I know.

  5. ‘But the way responsibility is talked about can make it sound like a heavy burden and a threat or punishment even.’ You raise a great point in your blog, about responsibility and the young, because we tend to take away responsibility from children and yet when we allow them to take responsibility they know exactly what they need to do, and it is really a great learning and support for them to take responsibility.

    1. My experience is that we take away responsibility from children because we can do it faster and things don’t get as messy (generally) and we don’t have to clean up or finish off some of what they have done. Lovingly and in a fun way instructing children is not a time saving method but a dedicated act of love and care that allows them (and us) to make mistakes, to get it wrong, to take time and enjoy the whole thing. It is like playing with toys and we can learn a lot from their playfulness and willingness to experiment and find out for themselves what works and what doesn’t.

      1. This is something I didn’t choose when my sons were younger. I did the, it’s just quicker if I do it myself, and they missed out on experimenting and when I look back I missed out on the playfulness and learning. There was many other things that I classified as more important but I now see that every part of our life is just as important as any other.

  6. Offering the experience of choices and consequences is such a powerful life lesson. That is how I have learnt my whole life, much to the frustration of those who would like to save me the lesson. As a suport person or onlooker, being patient with each other and understanding that there is a wider picture involved that does not always work to our timing can really alleviate the tendency to fall prey to frustration.

  7. We can play victim or blame instead of taking responsibility, but when it comes down to it everything is of our own making, and we can never escape that fact.

  8. I love this story. The simplicity of communication and empowering another with responsibility with this level of ease feels so natural and yet so uncommon at the same time.

  9. When we are looking to change our behaviour it is not so much about the change lasting forever in the initial stages but more about been given the opportunity to know that there is a different way of living in the world and the more we experience this the more we will be able to keep choosing the change for ourselves.

  10. Speaking to this young boy in a manner of respect and acknowledging him as an equal sounds like he connected to that and was able to take on those values too. Therefore changing his attitude for a while at least, this then becomes a marker for him to come back to!

  11. That’s such an important context you flag here that responsibility is not just the I but it’s part of a wider, bigger picture and often we have a clearer and more open attitude towards it when we understand and embrace this – it reminds us that we’re part of a larger whole, and each of us impacts on that whole in how we are. And that’s the joy of responsibility we matter, all of us, and everything we do matters, in particular the quality we bring of us to all that we do.

  12. “As with everything it will just need more practice”, I love these words Gabrielle although for me I need to watch that the practice does not become an opting out or delaying. Beautiful to reflect on, thank you.

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