Responsible: A Troublesome Word 1

“A man who is pulling his own weight never
has any left over to throw around."

O. A. Battista, From: The Reader's Digest Quotations

I’ve said a lot about how people create their own meanings and truths, and how a definition has its own personal meaning finished in each mind it enters. One of these troublesome definitions that is particularly difficult to pin down is the word “responsible”. In fact, one of the primary catch phrases on this site, uses this very same word in the phrase “responsible freedom”. It is particularly important because all of government, the economy, and even the human will itself seems to falter when confronted with how this word “should be” defined. Notice here the words “should be”; “responsible” doesn’t even seem to have a “real” definition, because we immediately tack on to it the words “should be”; in other words, a subjective opinion, instead of an objective factual “nuts and bolts” denotation. Every one of us seems to hold this definition most dear to us and, in particular, we seem to finish this definition by putting a part of our own selves in it. In point of fact, everything I say in my books, and on this site hinges on this very crucial definition of this single word. For it, and it alone creates for us the scope of our actions in both ourselves, and in all other people on this earth; I’ll go even further, and say its definition is actually tied directly to the human will itself!

One characteristic of the human will is the quality of “satiablity”. It is a factor of measurement for the will. How much is enough? How much is too much? Yet, it is not an absolute; like the word responsible, it hinges on the particular situation it is dealing with at a particular point in time. It is a balance that is built up in each of us through the experiences of life. It creates within the “self” a gauge that tells us when to stop certain behaviors, or when to go into “warp drive" in attaining a goal. The point is that each of us has a certain setting for this gauge inside of us, some set a little higher, some a little lower, some may even have the gauge turned off completely. In more scientific terms we might call it the “greed factor”. And that is exactly what defines the term “responsible” in us: this same “greed factor”.

In every situation in life where we have to deal with something “responsibly”, we go to the greed factor to tell us whether our actions are responsible or not; in our judgments of others, we go to this same place to judge their actions as responsible or irresponsible.

We see here a perfect example of how each of our universes finishes this definition in each individual case according to the dictates of the “self “. We also see how circumstances are so important, and no general rule can apply in the determination of whether a particular situation is in itself “responsible” or not. We must come to a judgment based solely on our own particular “working definition” of what responsible is, and the greed factor that resides solely within us, which is its determiner.

In politics, does the “greed” of the responsible “right” meet the “generosity” of the irresponsible “left”, and somewhere in between lie a true “responsibility” that “all” will know? 2 I wish it were that simple; but in actual fact, each individual situation determines the case. Responsibility and accountability lie, in the final analysis, with the “self” of the beholder, not in an arbitrary criterion of a standard. But government can do no more than form criteria against which to measure the implementation of law, and this is ultimately the determiner of what official “responsibility” is. And that is why love is so important in tempering the law with the situation at hand, just as it finds the correct setting of the greed factor in all of us. If a criterion of law is set so as to cause harm to even one of our citizens, it is too harsh, or too “responsible”. 3

As applied to freedom, responsibility again is set with a “maximal efficiency”, that same maximal efficiency where a maximal scope of freedom is allowed to all. Too much freedom for one takes freedom away from others, and is thus irresponsible; while too little, frugally minimizes the scope of all, and does not allow the will its maximum scope of attainment.

If this is the case, that in fact, there is no hard and fast criterion for responsibility except in each individual case where it is applied, how can we create governmental solutions that judge responsibility? By allowing accountability to take effect at the individual case level of implementation of law! Thus the mediation of law through the actions of arbitration panels to judge the responsible actions of individual cases against the strict criterion of law, allow the proper judgment of responsibility to be made on an individual basis instead of on the basis of rules of thumb. Thus is the inflexible letter of the law tempered by the compassion of love.

In the final analysis responsibility is an economy of sorts; an economy that regulates the human will itself. It is another one of the cruel realities of life, that this economy of the will is totally ignored in the economy of society. Where the “responsible” is most important; where the productions of the very essentials of life itself is determined, responsibility is forgotten and ignored; and, indeed, even misrepresented as the essence of an irresponsible freedom called capitalism, where the greed factor is totally shut down in its participants, and its effects on society ignored.

Through love, and love alone, are the responsible actions of human life regulated and governed. Thus the responsible finds a measure which is valid in gauging all humanity in every situation where responsibility presents itself. And only in this way can society create a cohesive harmony where all people can handle their responsibility to others properly, as they handle the responsibility for their own actions.


To return to note's origin click the footnote number at left

1 Today, in America, conservatives tend to define responsible as: “If someone is doing well than that person is acting responsibly; if someone is not doing well than that person is acting irresponsibly. Liberals, on the other hand, seem to have ignored the word entirely; and thus have picked up the prefix: "bleeding heart"! Of course, the real definition lies somewhere in between, and is most often optimally determined with a part of us that, politically speaking, isn’t even considered, except derogatorily as shown above – the heart!

2 See note 1 above.

3 It must also be mentioned here that this very same "arbitration through individual circumstance", which is emphasized here is very susceptible to corruption. The primary purpose of law is to act as a deterrence to the further breakage of this same law. Individual circumstance may mitigate the punishment, but it must not become an excuse through which the law itself is ignored; and therefore the deterrence to further breakage of law circumvented. Love is not an excuse for evil, but the further avoidance of evil through the acceptance of responsible action.



Originally Published:

August 19, 2010


July 4, 2014