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Published: Thursday 31st of October 2013
Responsibility is a fundamental part of human society. It’s a sort of “guarantee” that people will do what is necessary for themselves and others. Think of responsibility as an unwritten contract. One side is you and the other – a friend, a stranger, a group of people, etc. This contract forms a bond of understanding that each party must follow. But what exactly is “responsibility” and what distinguishes one person from being “responsible” from someone who is deemed “irresponsible”?
Responsibility is the ability to follow up on certain actions in our daily lives. These actions can involve mundane things like throwing out the garbage, dropping your kids off at school, or going to work. Or they can be a bit more serious: doing Jury duty or reporting a crime. Responsibility is knowing that something needs to be done and following up on that knowledge. Being irresponsible, on the other hand, is knowingly avoiding performing tasks from your daily life that require your attention. This neglect might have consequences varying in severity, not only for yourself but for other people as well.
Responsibility is a skill that isn’t inherently acquired. Babies cannot be held accountable for being inconsiderate or irresponsible when they cry or make a fuss. Their capacity to think and comprehend hasn’t been properly developed at such a young age to understand the consequence of their crying fits. It might be annoying to their parents or other adults, but a toddler cannot be classified as responsible or irresponsible. Similarly, younger children aged 5-10 might develop a sense of responsibility based on their upbringing, but this skill is still underdeveloped. A strict parent might teach the value of possessions, behavior, and manners to their child, and in turn, educate them in basic lessons such as “Don’t lie” or “Keep your promises,” etc. However, the still underdeveloped mind of young children cannot conform to such basic guidelines as easily as a grown-up’s mind. Sure, some children will exhibit signs of early maturity and responsibility. They will be able to hold a conversation on a comfortable level with an adult, but these children are in the minority.
Many believe that responsibility is built in the early years of our education, mainly at home. We learn by observation and repetition. Depending on the surrounding we find ourselves in our early years, we can walk away with good or bad habits. Example: Father is attentive and kind, and always keep his promise of watching a movie with us on weekends. Mother is busy with work but always finds time to buy us ice cream on Friday. This pattern would most likely lead to a positive habit. We learn from our parental figures that no matter how busy we are, certain things need to be done. This repetition of “active responsibility” helps us understand and build our inner morality. In time, we’ll follow the same pattern of being responsible. Now for a negative example: Father promises to take us to the cinema, but cancels every week because of his work. Mother says that if we get an excellent score on an exam, she will buy us a book, but makes an excuse that she doesn’t have the time to go to the mall. Similar to the first example, this teaches us a lesson over time. But this time, it doesn’t benefit our inner experience between right and wrong. We learn it’s OK to make false promises and begin to believe that as long as nobody gets hurt, there isn’t a problem. However, no matter how simple and small this act of being irresponsible is, it will be passed on to people in our lives.
Being irresponsible has a direct effect on the people we interact with. Saying we will do something for someone and forgetting or actively choosing to ignore the promise, might bring long-lasting damage to our relationship with people around us.
Firstly, they will feel offended. It might not have appeared important to us at the time, but to other people, it might have been the single most important act in the world. Different people attribute importance differently, so we need to be careful in dismissing or letting others down. They might never trust us again.
Secondly, someone’s life might depend on it. This one might be a stretch, but imagine you take the responsibility of taking care of someone’s pet for a week. You say you will, but right after, you decide it would be too much of a hassle. As a result, the pet suffers great discomfort and faces a potentially fatal end because of you being irresponsible. Not only is this a great oversight on your side, but also infringes on a criminal act.
Lastly, missed opportunities. By being constantly irresponsible, you condition your brain to always seek out the easy way out of a situation. Taking responsibility for your actions is a rewarding burden that will bring you closer to your goals, one step at a time. Whether in your professional or personal life, being in charge of tasks adds experience. Just like in a video game, we fill out an invisible experience bar over the course of our lives. Taking responsibility and trying your best in whatever task you tackle will add a few points towards a better and more successful self.
There is a negative side to being overly responsible as well. Just like in Nature, there must be a balance. If a person makes their life goal to run after and tackle every challenge with a mindset that they will succeed every single time, they will unintentionally set themselves for failure. Nobody is perfect, least of all humans. Even if we try our best, we are sure to slip up and miss a deadline here and there. The most important thing is to take the responsibility of owning up to our failures. Make amends where amends are due and avoid bad habits as much as possible. Learning from mistakes is the only way that we grow both on the inside and in our relations with society.