Three Lessons on Responsibility

Responsibility is an amazing thing to me. Amazing because of how many people don’t take any for anything (it seems). Part of this is the times we’re living in. Most people living in modern countries fall into a generational divide (something discovered in my day job’s research) which is demonstrated in speech. Most people over 55 bought insurance in case they had an accident. Most people under 35 and definitely under 30 bought insurance because they would have an accident.

A subtle and telling difference. Younger people assume accidents are inevitable and therefore they bear no responsibility for them. This includes preparation and cleanup. If something is going to happen it’s going to happen and there’s nothing you can do about it. Leave your cell phone where it’ll get stolen or lost. Don’t worry about your credit cards being compromised. TXT while driving. Don’t drive defensively. And if something horrible happens, blame someone else, never assume responsibility because if you do, teams of lawyers will be lining up to line their pockets. Our research also indicated that older people thought identity theft might occur once every seven or eight years, younger people thought it might occur every five or six months.

So responsibility is an amazing thing. Even more so because I believe it’s an underlying concept in life and a determining factor in how fulfilling one’s life can be.

How can one live without taking on some kind of responsibility for themselves, for their gifts, for their acts, for their mistakes, …? How can you live with Intention unless you’re willing to take responsibility for your life and everything you do in it?

Lesson 1: Take responsibility for how you live your life.

Some people are afraid of taking responsibility. They are afraid of making mistakes. I don’t consider myself a brave or courageous person at all and I know I’m going to make mistakes. Perhaps it is that surety that dismisses any fears? Like the younger people mentioned above, I know mistakes will happen, might as well enjoy them, learn from them, make them my trusted allies instead of my fear-inducing foes. I don’t wish for them, certainly, and I know they’ll occur never-the-less. And usually when I least want them to. Might as well make use of them.

But that’s a key concept; I can’t learn to succeed unless I’m willing to fail. Unless I’m willing to fail at something, all I’m really doing is creating a ceiling that I’ll never break through and calling that ceiling “success” when it’s not. It’s really just a demonstration of where I gave up. Permanently. Forever.

Lesson 2: I can’t claim responsibility for my successes unless I’m willing to claim responsibility for my failures.

That fear can be crippling, numbing, paralyzing and is always damning. Will you never move, never breath? That next breath may be your last, better not take it. Take a step and the earth might swallow you up, better stand still. Don’t make a decision, it might be the wrong one.

Want to know a secret? Lots of your decisions will be incorrect. They will, in fact, be laughably in error.

Want to know an even bigger secret? People who love you don’t care that you make mistakes. In fact, people that care about you will offer to help you when you do make mistakes.

So are you afraid? Of what? Of people? The ones who won’t come to you with love and patience when you make a mistake? Do you really want to spend your life caring about the opinions of people who only want to laugh at your failures?

Lesson 3: People who genuinely care about you will help you learn responsibility.

It’s one of the great ways the Universe shows us who is worth being in our life.

Learning Responsibility

We learn responsibility by taking on small tasks and learning from them. Want to be a chef? Better learn how to boil water first. Next make a sandwich for yourself. Good so far? Make a sandwich for a friend, then dinner for your family. Now invite some friends over for a meal. The next one’s going to blow your mind – invite friends over and tell them you’re going to experiment on them. You want to learn what good tastes go good together. Experiment with your friends’ palettes a few times and you’re ready to start doing small banquets.

It goes from there.

Want to drive tractor-trailer big rigs? Better start with a pedal car.

Want to swim the channel? Better start by splashing water in your bathtub.

Want to run a marathon? Let’s walk around the block first.

When you’re not ready

An aspect of learning responsibility that tends to blow people away is that often the first act of responsibility is indicating that you’re not ready to be responsible.

What? Give me that again, please?

You read correctly; often the first demonstration of responsibility is recognizing that you’re not ready to take on responsibility for something. Imagine knowing you’re unprepared, have no time to prepare, don’t know what you’re doing or how to do it and agreeing to a deadline you can’t possibly meet.

Seems pretty irresponsible, doesn’t it? Yet how many people do you know do exactly that, have things blow up on them and then make excuses, ask forgiveness or simply turn their backs and walk away. I knew a fellow who agreed to deadlines even though he knew (he admitted this after the fact) that he couldn’t do what was asked (asked, not ordered or demanded, but asked and agreed to). When things came crashing down (he was instrumental in an organization imploding on itself) he said that he’d agreed to perform assigned tasks because he didn’t want to disappoint anybody.

I stared, dumbfounded. “You mean like you just did?”


So, if you’re just learning responsibility, take responsibility for boiling water, not planning a banquet.

Managing Responsibility

Please don’t ask me to teach you…well, anything…if you’re going to be afraid what you’ll learn or putting in the time to seriously study what is offered. There are lots of other places out there that will train you in I don’t know what and the only responsibility they’ll place on you is that you pay their bill.

Ah, but…do you want to change the world? And start by changing yourself?

Come, sit, listen, learn. The Universe won’t tell you to put out a forest fire on the first day. It’ll start by teaching you how to extinguish a burning match.

Want to know what’s really amazing? Learn responsibility in the small and you don’t have to learn it in the large. Take responsibility for the match and the rest is available to you for the asking.

But remember; if you ask, you take responsibility for the answer. Understand that before you ask anything. Some people think it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission and that’s demeaning and insulting to all involved, me thinks. “Forgiveness rather than permission” implies that you knew not to ask because the answer would be “no”. Doing something when you know you shouldn’t do it calls into question your willingness to live with yourself and others. Remember, what you do to others you give them the right to do to you. Knowing you’ll get a “no” or getting a “no” then coming up with an alternative that begets a “yes”? Now you’ve demonstrated understanding, knowledge, compassion, humanity, wisdom, …

Do you shy away from responsibility? Come. That’s our first exploration together.

It’s up to you.


Joseph Carrabis
Joseph Carrabis
Joseph Carrabis has been everything from a long-haul trucker to a Chief Research Scientist and holds patents covering mathematics, anthropology, neuroscience, and linguistics. He served as Senior Research Fellow and Board Advisor to the Society for New Communications Research and The Annenberg Center for the Digital Future; Editorial Board Member on the Journal of Cultural Marketing Strategy; Advisory Board Member to the Center for Multicultural Science; Director of Predictive Analytics, Center for Adaptive Solutions; served on the UN/NYAS Scientists Without Borders program; and was selected as an International Ambassador for Psychological Science in 2010. He created a technology in his basement that's in use in over 120 countries. Now he spends his time writing fiction based on his experiences.

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