Being Responsible or Taking Responsibility

by Reverend Doctor Faith J. Conklin

            Our youngest daughter, (now an adult and with her own two children of that age) was then in elementary school. I was scolding her for something wrong she’d done. It wasn’t anything terrible. She wasn’t happy with my response. “Well, it’s all your fault”, she said angrily. “My fault” I asked, “Why is it my fault?” She shouted, “You had me. You’re the reason I’m here! It’s your fault!”

Ludicrous logic, isn’t it? Too often it’s one we practice. Blaming, shaming, name calling… anger, guilt, suspicion; we take them on ourselves or project them on others. “It’s ‘our fault’; it’s ‘their fault’.

Recently, I had a conversation with a friend who was very upset. An undertaking hadn’t gone as hoped or planned. It hadn’t resulted in a good outcome. Many lives were going to be affected.  My friend “felt responsible” and was more than ready to take the full blame.

I listened and we talked for a while. Then I shared my understanding. In my mind, there’s a great difference between “being responsible” and “taking responsibility”. To me those two things aren’t the same.

I’m not responsible for another’s actions, feelings or choices. I’m not responsible for every success or failure that occurs. In other words, good or bad; it “isn’t all about me”.  The outcome of every endeavor, even the ones in which I’m passionately involved; isn’t “my fault”.

Accepting that truth and living by it, (which is harder) is very freeing. It keeps me from being either negative or passive. It also allows me to accept my responsibility.

I have a responsibility to be loving, kind and compassionate.  I have a responsibility to use my gifts and skills to make a difference.  I have a responsibility to care for myself. I have a responsibility to work for the greater good and to do those things which may offer no immediate benefit to me but could enhance the lives of others. I have a responsibility to challenge what is unjust, hateful, wrong and oppressive in my community and world and a responsibility to work to change such things.

One of the quotes often attributed to John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church is this:

“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

I have a responsibility to “do good”. That’s a choice I accept and I’m willing to make. How about you? Where will you let go of “being responsible”? Where will you “take responsibility”?

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