What Are We Responsible For?

This Sunday’s question comes from regular reader Meagan, who asks: What are we responsible for?

One of the most important parts of become an adult is determining, and performing, your responsibilities. Paying your bills, doing your laundry, stocking your refrigerator, and so on.

However, beyond our individual responsibilities are the societal ones. Determining what exactly we, collectively, are responsible for is much more challenging.

In the first place, there is the issue of scope. Are we only responsible for ourselves? Our families? Or zoom out a bit. Do we bear any responsibility for our country, our species, or our ecosystem?

Additionally, there is the problem of impact. Should we consider ourselves responsible for something we have little control over? Do I bear any responsibility for the human race, when I have limited control over the vast majority of it? And how much responsibility do I have over my genetics, over which I have little control?

There is a fine balancing act in place in this regard. It can be easy to take on so much responsibility that it becomes impossible to act. However, feeling some sense of larger responsibility can lead to inspiration, which can lead to positive societal change.

How do you find that balance? When you think about your responsibilities, what are they? Do we have a collective responsibility?

Related questions: What are our responsibilities to others? What makes a community?  How much power does an individual have? What are you doing to make the world a better place? What is the greatest problem facing humanity?


2 thoughts on “What Are We Responsible For?”

  1. In a collective and civic sense, I believe we are responsible for creating and maintaining institutions and systems that:

    – assist and, at times, protect those most in need and the vulnerable
    – promote equity
    – make a thriving future possible

    Practically and on an individual level, the question is more complicated. First, we all come with different capabilities and capacities. So what I can do and be responsible for (with my strengths, skills, and talents) is different than what someone else (with different strengths, skills, and talents) can do and be responsible for. Second, what I can do now, when I am feeling relatively healthy, will be different than when I am weak from sickness or chronic illnesses. These are times when the only responsibility I can bear is taking care of myself. It is also when I might need to rely on others.

    In short, we are responsible for self-care, trying our best — individually and collectively — to love and practically care for one another, and making a thriving future possible.

  2. There was a news story recently about a woman, very fit and healthy, who got lost in the woods in Hawaii. Having hurt her ankle, she barely survived the four or five days until she was rescued. This made me realize how much we rely on others, on our civilization as a whole. We are not as dependent on our own selves as we like to believe. Other people make and grow what we have in our houses and what we buy in the stores. Other people have made the rules we live by. So, I believe we each need to do our part, to contribute in our own way.

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