Responsibility: What it Means and How to Live It

Responsibility is a word that is so often misunderstood.

We are told from a very young age to “be responsible,” “act responsible,” and “don’t be irresponsible.”

What they do not teach us is what the word responsible really means.

No one really ever defines responsibility.

No one sits down and explains what actions, words, or behaviors would be necessary to be “responsible.”

Often what we are given is the feeling of what responsibility is based on behaviors that are deemed inappropriate by those giving the definition.

It feels, when you are young, as if responsible really means, “do as I requested you to do.”

They often teach us that “when you become more responsible,” you can do ‘blank.’

But is that responsibility?

Is responsibility following others’ desires, requests, and mandates measure responsibility?

Does being responsible mean behaving in a manner that is deemed appropriate?

Is responsibility even measurable?

What you might have learned about responsibility

I want to think back to a time in your life when someone called you irresponsible.

What were you doing?

What did you say?

How was that measured?

For most of us, from as early as we can remember, we were told to “be responsible” with our things.

If we broke something, we were told that we had been “irresponsible” with that item.

As we got older and things like driving and curfews came along, our parents expected us to “drive responsibly” and be home on time as a measurement of our “responsibility.”

If we were late, damaged the car, did not go where we said we would go, or did not behave in the manner that we were instructed to behave, we were told that was because of our being “irresponsible.”

Even at a young age, we learn the word “responsible” with vastly different meanings.

They teach us the word in correlation to the breaking of a toy all the way to the property damage caused by a car.

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This vast definition is often confusing to many and why so many struggle to be “responsible.”

This ever-moving target is one that can, and often is, a boat on the horizon.

Sometimes can see it, but more often is just floating back and forth in and out of sight.

Let’s define responsibility

Let’s talk for a moment about what responsibility really is.

Think about that for just a moment.

What are we asking for in children and in adults to “be responsible?”

Are we asking them to do something in particular?

Do we ask them to speak in a certain way that is “responsible?”

Are we looking for a particular behavior that is exactly what is right for every person in every situation?

I don’t think so.

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Align the word responsibility with the word authenticity

Think about that for one moment.

Being authentic with one’s self.

Being in alignment with our word and our actions.

The old expressions of mean what you say and say what you mean.

Responsibility exists when one is completely aligned with their word, being authentic.

For me, and for the way we raised our own children, responsibility is less about what you do and far more about who you are.

“Responsible” is less about what you say and what you do but rather how those actions align with your authenticity.

How true are you to your word and your actions?

A few examples of responsibility we can relate to

Think of this example.

If we tell our parents that we will be home at ten, then we stay authentic with our word and be home at ten.

Suppose we tell our boss that we will complete a project by Monday morning at 9:00, then the project is finished and on our boss’ desk by 9:00 on Monday morning.

If we are asked to run a few errands for a friend and bring some things by their house, then we run the errands and drop off the requested items.

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If we are authentic in taking care of our things, we do what is necessary to safeguard them.

Responsibility is therefore derived from the authenticity of our word.

Those around us establish a very clear understanding that we are authentic to our word.

Our words, our actions, and our behaviors are in alignment with the authenticity of our own selves.

We are called “responsible.”

When our words align with our actions, I would argue that is what we seek when seeking “responsibility.”

When we are being “responsible” others see us as individuals who do what they say they will do.

Responsible people are where they say they are going to be.

They act as they say they are going to act and live as they say they will live.

It is because of that authenticity to our word that others define us as “responsible.”

Again it is less about what you do and more about who you are.

Understanding irresponsible and inauthentic

Being authentic to our word and our actions, in reality, defines our “responsibility” because the most important responsibility we have is to ourselves.

If we are inauthentic and do not follow through with our words, others view us as “irresponsible.”

If we are not authentic in how we appreciate and value others and other people’s things (as well as our own), then others will view us as “irresponsible.”

Let’s go back to the broken toy that we mentioned above.

When you got that toy, you were given it with the understanding that you were to care for it, respect it, and play with it appropriately.

You agreed and were then given the toy.

When you threw it off the couch, hitting the floor and breaking it, your actions were inauthentic with our words.

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You were being inauthentic, and that behavior was labeled “irresponsible.”

Then you got older, began driving, and had a curfew.

You looked at your parents, gave your word, and stated that you would be home safely at the agreed-upon time.

When that did not happen, again, you were not in alignment with your word.

You were told your behaviors were “irresponsible” when in reality, what they were was inauthentic.

Be true to your word

For all of us, our word is all that we have.

If we are not in alignment with our word, then people view our word as “unreliable.”

The same goes for our actions.

If we are not true to what we say we are going to do and do not complete what we say we are going to complete, then others view us as “irresponsible.”

I would say that rather than being irresponsible, we are being inauthentic.

If we do not honor our word, remain in check with our actions, guard our things, and protect and love those whom we have committed to protecting and loving, then we are out of alignment with our own authenticity.

Therefore, society is viewing us as “irresponsible.”

Final thoughts on responsibility

In closing, I would say this.

The only continuum, the only constant, the only “control” that any of us have is our authenticity.

Responsibility is a manifestation of our word, an adjective of authenticity, if you will.

When we align our thoughts, our words, and our deeds with our own authenticity, then responsibility becomes one adjective that is used to describe us.

So ask yourself.

Am I aligned to my word?

Do my words match my actions?

Are my behaviors aligned with my word?

Do I do as I say and say as I do?

Look carefully at the authenticity in you, in your word, and in your actions.

Align them, and “responsibility” will follow.

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