Personal Responsibility: The Need of Purpose

By Robert Standford

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personal responsibility

Is a lack of personal responsibility the root of ills plaguing society?

According to a google search, the definition of responsibility is “1) the state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or of having control over someone, 2) the state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something.”

Responsibilities get you out of bed in the morning. Do you have a job? A family? A self-imposed obligation to help others? These are a few examples of responsibilities that get people out of bed in the morning, go to bed at a certain time, do certain things, avoid certain things, associate with certain people while avoiding others – maybe avoiding is the wrong word – but the point I’m trying to make is that our responsibilities form our lives and give our lives meaning, in ways that we may not be able to fully comprehend.

Jordan B Peterson: “1) Solve your own problems, 2) you can solve your own problems and you’ll find the deepest meaning in your life if you decide that you’re going to solve your own problems.”

I don’t view this quote as literally meaning that we can personally solve all our problems, but we can definitely make decisions that allow us to suffer less, and definitely avoid shifting blame for our problems onto others – as this is a slippery slope.  

On the flip-side, a lack of responsibilities allows one to alleviate oneself of the consequences of bad decisions, as one doesn’t take ownership for making a bad decision. I view this as extremely dangerous, as it allows the worst parts of human nature to manifest into society. Entitlement, a lack of empathy, among others that unfortunately ‘bubble-over’ into policy decisions and communal decisions, if enough people are subjected to thinking that they need not suffer the consequences of bad decisions.

Personal responsibility can extend into other things such as ethical responsibility (doing the right thing or not doing the wrong thing) but also to a responsibility to others (family, friends, community). In this sense, responsibility encapsulates more than just the self. So I suppose in a sense, I agree with collective responsibility, but not in the way politicians talk about it.

An issue with the concept of a lack of personal responsibility, is the idea that if you haven’t done anything specific that you can identify, that has caused suffering in your life, while others – through no effort of their own- have been dealt a better hand than you, might feel that they didn’t purposefully cause their own problems, then why should they take responsibility for solving them?

Often, those ‘dealt a good hand’, is ‘anyone doing better than me’, and something needs to be done about that person in the name of ‘fairness’ or equality. Which often in practice, leads to a scenario of, bringing everyone down to the lower level, instead of trying build up people to their desired level of self-defined success.

This is a view perpetuated by leftist ‘elite’ and absorbed by people who don’t want to, or don’t feel they should have to, take ownership of their lives through personal responsibility. In this case, blame has to be placed somewhere (because you don’t perceive your ills as your fault, but they are someone’s fault), and in most cases, it is placed on individuals seen to be doing well(‘better than me’) and from a different self-defined ‘group’(could be race, gender, creed, etc.). Progressing to every individual in that ‘group’.

I think another thing that feeds into the lack of personal responsibility is the unrealistic expectations of a free lunch being promised by prominent people in society, at the expense of the ‘evil’ group exploiting the system for purely selfish reasons.

Cleaning your own room first is fundamental to becoming a productive, positive member of society. If one doesn’t feel the need to take ownership of one’s life, one need not contribute positively to society. (I’m purposely avoiding the specifics of what I believe to be a positive contribution to society for now as I believe that is a separate talking point on its own).

When people say things like, we need a revolution, we need to break down the system in order to build it up fairly, we need to cause chaos, disrupt the peace, or simply creating artificial crises, is like praying for the disease just to be able to find the cure. It’s not a useful notion to progress a society and completely negates the belief that responsibility should be placed on individuals, and instead places collective blame on anyone deemed to be successful in the ‘broken system’. How else would they be able to be successful? The fundamental belief that the system, as a whole, is broken is far too vague and convenient to allow for meaningful discussion about which aspects are ‘broken’ and perhaps need some attention. Certainly, no system is free from flaws, but the flaws need to be prioritized in order to be dealt with. Step 1 – personal responsibility.

Robert Stanford is a third-year university student, studying a BCom(investment management and banking).

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