Having responsibility is the duty or obligation to act. Taking
responsibility is acknowledging and accepting the choices you have made, the actions you have
taken, and the results they have led to. True autonomy leads to both having
responsibility and taking responsibility. Taking responsibly is
fulfilling your role in life. Responsibility is an essential element
of integrity; it is the congruence of what you think, what you say, and what you
do. Responsibility is essential for reciprocity,
and for maintaining symmetric
- Having a duty or obligation to act
- Acknowledging and accepting the choices you have made, the actions you have taken, and
the results they have led to.
- Able to meet
commitments made to yourself and others
- Keeping the promises you make.
- Doing everything you say you
will do, or have lead others to expect from you. Do what you say!
Responsibility is a Choice
Responsibility without choice is torment. This is the tragic curse suffered
by scapegoats and other innocent people falsely accused and wrongly
Choice without responsibility is greed. This is the selfish attempt to get something for
nothing that is the wasteful and harmful excess of cheaters, playboys, egotists, and
Escaping responsibility is at the root of the
tragedy of the commons. Taking
responsibility for our choices provides the symmetry of
reciprocal exchange and the basis for
trust. Responsibility is a
congruence between the actions we choose and our values.
Responsibility unleashes choice. Whenever we think, decide, choose, and act we are exercising our personal
responsibility. Deciding to accept responsibility for our choices increases the
range of choices considered acceptable by others. It allows
autonomy to increase without decreasing
relatedness. We always have more responsible and less
responsible options to choose from. Here are examples of choices we have:
|Facts, realism, reality, and learning
Inquiring, investigating, seeking, and embracing facts and truth.
Reason and sanity.
||Fantasy. Avoiding reality; embracing fantasy or magical thinking. Denying
or escaping reality. Rumors. Rejecting facts. Insanity.
|Focusing our thoughts and attention. Orderly.
||Drifting, rambling, unfocused, flighty, chaotic.
|Thinking through alternatives and consequences.
||Relying on habit or taking the easy way.
|Clear and consistent thinking and expression.
||Obscurity, vagueness, hedging, inconsistency, waffling.
|Learn from history.
||Revise, ignore, or dispute history.
|Seeking out expertise.
|Working to understand.
|Self-discipline. Impulse control. Behaving true to your values. Saying
“yes” to your values and “no” to the rest.
||Acting on impulse. Going along with whatever. Situational ethics.
|Do what you say.
||Evade reciprocal obligations. Cheat.
|Open to new ideas and information. Curious. Wise.
||Closed to new ideas. Stubborn and closed minded. Ignorant.
|Willing to accept blame for errors.
||Infallible, arrogant, dismissive, obstinate.
|Consistent, congruent, and reliable.
||Inconsistent, chaotic, unreliable.
|Rationality, valuing reason, respect for facts, and valid logic. Gathering, validating, and studying
evidence. Developing and applying a coherent
theory of knowledge.
||Fallacies, distortions, assumptions, misinformation, and
|Considering a variety of points-of-view.
||Accepting a one-sided view.
|Rigorous, careful, attentive.
||Sloppy, careless, distracted.
|Adaptation and flexibility. Adjusting beliefs and
actions to accommodate newly understood facts.
||Rigid and misfit.
||Unawareness and ignorance.
|Adherence to evidence, values, and choice.
|Entitled to my own opinion.
||Entitled to my own facts.
|Talking to people.
||Talking about people.
|Building enduring relationships based on who we
||Seeking instrumental relationships based on what we do.
|I choose to . . .
I decided to . . .
|I had to . . .
I had no choice . . .
|Ideas, choices, and actions do matter and do have
consequences. Believing that effects and outcomes have causes.
||It's all up to fate, destiny, and chance. Attributing results to chance
or destiny. There is noting I can do; I am
|Internal Locus of
||External Locus of Control.
Responsibility requires Autonomy
requires autonomy. We can only feel
accountable and be held accountable for the choices we make for
choice is only possible when we are autonomous. As
increases, responsibility increases with it. However, when autonomy is reduced, responsibility
is reduced along with it. This leads to an unfortunate and all too common destructive spiral
when one person or agency imposes arbitrary rules in an attempt to control another. But
arbitrarily imposed rules reduce autonomy, and therefore reduce
responsibility. Management, parents, teachers, agencies, partners, governments,
organizations, and others often
attempt to increase control by increasing the number of rules. But this increase
in rules decreases autonomy which reduces responsibility. Arbitrary rules remove
responsibility. This is the
failure of “micro management”; the target is frustrated by all the
and the manager is frustrated by the negative response, disengagement, and overall poor results. Treating
adults like children by imposing arbitrary rules that destroy autonomy often
encourages them to act like irresponsible children. This degenerative spiral is illustrated here. It
illustrates how submitting to authority reduces the sense of responsibility. To reverse this spiral, increase
responsibility by increasing autonomy.
Various appeals such as loyalty oaths or calls to faith are often used in an
attempt to sustain personal responsibility as people are asked to tolerate,
accept, and obey arbitrary rules. Be alert to these, judge for yourself if they
are manipulative, and carefully evaluate what you are being told and asked to
do. Decide for yourself what you
believe, what you accept, what you
value, and what you are willing to do.
When rules are understood as a reasonable means toward achieving a
can help increase autonomy rather than decrease it. We understand
the value of driving on the right (or left, depending on your country) and
stopping at red lights because these simple rules promote order and help keep us
safe. We understand that waiting our turn in line provides fair and orderly
access. We choose to obey these helpful rules. Committees and well-run organizations
choose to adopt rules that help each person better
contribute to the shared goals, meet the reasonable expectations of others, and
perform better as a group. If the purpose for the rule is understood and judged
to be reasonable and valuable then the rule is adopted voluntarily. The rule
becomes integrated. In this case the
rule increases order and improves results without reducing autonomy or
Dispersion and Focus
There is an unfortunate tendency for an individual to seek increasing
authority and focus it on themselves while dispersing responsibility throughout
an organization and avoiding it themselves. This is especially true in a typical
bureaucracy. The frustrating statement: “I am in charge of this but I can't help
you with that” is all too typical in a bureaucracy. This allows an individual to increase their power by constraining
the activities of others, while providing themselves with a way to avoid
difficult decision making, distribute blame, and avoid
accountability. As a defense, to increase accountability, those that must rely on
performance of a bureaucracy seek to focus responsibility and disperse
Optimism and Responsibility
Optimists tend to take responsibility
for good outcomes and blame other causes for bad
outcomes. Pessimists blame themselves when things go wrong. The truth often
exists somewhere between these two extremes. Be flexible and choose accurate
explanations that fit the evidence.
Many people are very skillful in disguising or obscuring the responsibly they
hold for the
choices they make and the actions they take. Here are some of the most common
Playing the Victim
You are playing the victim and shirking your responsibility when you are acting like you have no choice,
choosing to remain powerless, declining to
act, blaming others, or failing to see constructive alternatives. These are all
ways to “play the victim” and deny the responsibility you can take. “But what
can I do?” is the typical victim’s disingenuous protest as they act helpless and decide to do
Blaming the Victim
Often the poor are blamed for their poverty, battered spouses and children
are blamed for causing their own abuse, and rape victims are accused of “asking
for it”. Instead of blaming the victim, look more deeply and more broadly for
the true causes of the problems. Blaming the victim distracts attention from the true cause and attempts
to shift responsibility. It is a form of scapegoating.
Adults Act Responsibly
Adults act responsibly, children do not, regardless of how long they may have
- Control impulses and act deliberately according to their
values, well chosen
beliefs, and long term
- Consider the needs of others and the
community, not only
- Are generous rather than selfish, kind rather than cruel,
gratified, not greedy,
- Are comfortable with complexity, doubt, and ambiguity, they are
not quick to
- Control their emotions and don't tolerate tantrums,
anger displays, self-indulgence, and
- Are emotionally competent and apply a robust
theory of knowledge,
- Integrate experiences and information to act
rationally, consistently, and reliably rather than unpredictably,
inconsistently, irrationally, and erratically. Adults are stable, even
tempered, and non-volatile.
- Are patient and consider the long term, not only this fleeting moment,
- Speak with candor and don't tell lies, speak
disingenuously, or mislead,
- Are trustworthy, not manipulative;
respect others and play by a
fair set of rules. Children often cheat and
expect to win at any cost.
- Choose wisdom over ignorance,
- Value reason over power,
the pen over the sword,
- Confront problems and transcend conflict,
rather than deny and avoid problems, instigate quarrels, become vindictive, or seek
- Accept responsibility for their actions, admit mistakes, accept their
share of the blame, and
apologize to others,
- Accept and assimilate facts, rather than dismiss,
distort, ignore, spin, self-justify, or
- Maintain a balanced perspective; adults tolerate trivial transgressions while
courageously upholding the most vital principles,
- Attain an
authentic humility and keep their egos
- Are authentic, not phony,
- Are autonomous,
competent, and value their
- Are helpful, not helpless.
- Are sober, not strung-out,
- Enjoy fun, but never at the expense of others.
Our world requires adult supervision; take responsibility to act your age.
Children choose easy over hard, simplistic over complex, and fast over slow. But
significant contributions are often difficult, complex, and slow to achieve. Forego
the cheap thrills to achieve satisfaction and significance. You are a
autonomous adult. You are fully
responsible for all your words and actions, as are
other competent adults; it is time to put away childish things.
A Central Role
Many emotions reflect how we attribute responsibility. We are especially
quick to assign blame, often attempting to dispose of
our loss. Here are examples of emotions related to attributing responsibility:
- Assigning responsibility for a loss is the definition of
- Pessimists blame themselves
for bad outcomes.
- Pessimism contributes to depression.
- Optimists blame others for
poor results, but claim responsibly for good outcomes.
- Optimism is the basis for hope.
- Shame results from taking personal
responsibility for not meeting your own expectations.
- Guilt results from taking personal
responsibility for not meeting another's expectations.
- Revenge and resentment
seek to hold others responsible and
accountable for your loss.
- You accept responsibility for causing another's loss when you
apologize to them.
- Forgiveness frees others from
responsibility for your future well-being.
- Hate blames the enemy and holds them responsible for your troubles.
- Sadness turns into anger
if you blame someone for your loss.
- You feel betrayed if someone does not meet the
responsibilities you expect of them.
- Compassion turns into
contempt if you blame the person and hold them
responsible for their
- Reciprocity acknowledges our
responsibility for maintaining symmetry in relationships.
- Autonomy is taking full
responsibility for your own decisions.
But because another's intent can never be accurately
attributed, responsibility often
remains ambiguous, and the resulting emotions may not be sending reliable
- “We've gotten to the point where everybody's got a right and nobody's got
a responsibility.” ~ Newton Minow.
- “With great power comes great responsibly.” ~ Spiderman
- “With freedom comes responsibility.” ~ Edward Deci
- “The price of greatness is responsibility.” ~ Winston Churchill
- “Responsibility—true responsibility—requires that people act autonomously
in relation to the world around, that they behave authentically on behalf of
some general good.” ~ Edward Deci
“The disappearance of a sense of responsibility is the
most far-reaching consequence of submission to authority.” ~
“Where respect says ‘Don't hurt’, responsibility says
‘Do help’.” ~ Thomas Lickona
“Do what you say.” ~
“Responsibility without choice is torment. Choice without responsibility is
greed.” ~ Leland R. Beaumont
“Citizens are grown-ups. Consumers are kids.” ~ Benjamin R. Barber.
“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as
a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” ~ St. Paul in
the New Testament.
Six Pillars of Self-Esteem,
by Nathaniel Branden
Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole,
by Benjamin R. Barber
Fear, Sadness, Anger, Joy, Surprise, Disgust, Contempt,
Anger, Envy, Jealousy, Fright, Anxiety, Guilt, Shame, Relief, Hope, Sadness, Depression, Happiness,
Pride, Love, Gratitude, Compassion, Aesthetic Experience,
Joy, Distress, Happy-for, Sorry-for, Resentment, Gloating, Pride, Shame, Admiration, Reproach,
Love, Hate, Hope, Fear, Satisfaction, Relief, Fears-confirmed, Disappointment, Gratification,
Gratitude, Anger, Remorse,
power, dominance, stature, relationships