Personal Responsibility

Before talking about  what personal responsibility is, I’d like to spend a few words talking about what it is not. First personal responsibility is not grandiosity. Grandiosity is the belief that we are (and must be) in control of all that happens and it’s not a good thing. Most of us have at least a touch of grandiosity. It’s something we learn as infants. Here’s how: very early we discover that when we cry somebody comes, if we make cute faces they make cute faces back, if we drop things they pick them up. We get the idea we run things and we can get addicted to it. This is grandiosity which is the idea that everything that happens is our fault. That’s fine when things go well, but when they don’t well that’s our fault too. And so we get obsessive about doing or not doing whatever we need to do or not do so that everything will be fine. All our ducks need to be in a row always. This is what the concept of “Original Sin” is really about, it’s about grandiosity.

Second it is not legal responsibility,

To be held legally responsible it must be proven that:

  1. You acted
  2. That the outcome could reasonably have been predicted in advance.

Note that you cannot normally be held legally responsible for failing to act, nor can you be held objectively responsible in the absence of witnesses of physical evidence of your actions.

The definition of Personal responsibility is much broader than responsibility. The issue is not whether or not you acted to cause the outcome. Rather it’s whether either by action or by inaction you contributed to the outcome. So what is it? I’ll offer a couple of possible definitions here’s the first:

  • Personal responsibility means accepting responsibility for the outcomes of our actions or inaction.

My only issue with this definition is that it is it is focused solely on external outcomes. It misses the inner aspects of personal responsibility, it misses those aspects of persona responsibility that make us authentic. That leads me to a second definition.

  • Personal responsibility means accepting responsibility for our experience of life. Not what happens, we often have little control over that, but how we experience it.

For me, both definitions are one sided. When I use the term personal responsibility I am talking abou both of these aspects.

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