The Importance of Personal Responsibility

A few weeks ago I cut one of my fingers while stripping a wire with a utility knife. Who was to blame? The company that manufactured the knife? The company that manufactured the wire I was working with? Perhaps the manufacturers of the work gloves I was wearing that weren’t strong enough to protect my finger. Any one of those could take the blame, right? Certainly it couldn’t be me at fault for doing something sloppy and hurting myself, could it?

Action has attached to it reaction, or consequence. Some consequences are subtle, some are obvious. Some consequences are favorable, some are not. All actions have consequences and consequences can’t be avoided. Some times we might think we have circumvented consequences because they are not obvious. Or we might think this because through subsequent actions we have temporarily diverted a consequence. Whatever we think we have done, we have not avoided the consequence of justice, it eventually catches up to us. 

Consequences are nothing more than new options to choose between. We are constantly facing options to choose from. Each choice determines the future options we face. The point is that we are in charge of how we choose, every choice, from the initial choice on through each and every subsequent consequential option. Personal responsibility is making these choices for ourselves and owning the consequences of our choices.

I could blame the knife company, the wire company or the glove company for me cutting myself, but what good would it do? No one but me is to blame for my action. I own the consequence of some mild pain and a reminder to be more attentive when working with sharp tools. If I embrace personal responsibility in my life then I will not blame external forces for my personal actions. I will not blame the knife company, the wire company or the glove company. I will blame my own inattentiveness.

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Image courtesy of digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Why is personal responsibility important? If I am lacking in this characteristic, I will blame the knife company, the wire company and the glove company. What happens next? Dissonance. I am angry at the three external forces, and what does that get me? Unresolved anger turns into hatred, and hatred is poisonous to happiness. So without personal responsibility I am left with a small cut on my finger, a slight tinge of pain, and contentious feelings. Do I learn anything from the experience? Only that my clumsiness isn’t my own fault (read responsibility). I turn object manufacturers into the responsible parties regarding my personal welfare.

Without personal responsibility I cast the responsibility for anything unfavorable I experience to someone else. Soon I develop the feeling that everyone is out to get me, I start to play the role of a perpetual victim. Is that too big of a jump to make from not taking responsibility for myself right to thinking I’m forever a victim? You can decide that for yourself.

I know one thing, if I focus on the external factors that may have contributed to a situation then I’m not focusing on the internal factors. The popular example for locus of control, external or internal, is a test score in a class at school. When I get a low score I blame the teacher or the wording of the test. When I get a high score I congratulate myself for hard work and good effort. Certainly both scenarios may be true, which is why it is good to find a balance.

Being personally responsible is being aware of the situation and all factors, both from outside as well as from within. Looking inward first helps identify strengths and weaknesses. Knowing strengths and weaknesses helps to prepare you for the next choice that needs to be made. If personal responsibility is cast off or given away to an external governing influence, the benefit of realizing strengths and weaknesses is lost. The growth that comes from experience is lost. The ability to choose begins to atrophy. The person is left a shell.

Dramatic? Justifiably so. We are each responsible for ourselves and our families first. It is both an obligation and a benefit.

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This post was featured on Alltop.com’s list of Most “Topular” Stories for the Decision Science category May 11, 2013. I thought it was pretty cool, but…
Alltop. I don't know how I got there either.

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About paulbrodie

I am a writer and a musician. My education is in psychology with emphasis in industrial/organizational psychology. My work experience has been primarily with electronic document management. Academically and intellectually I am interested in criminology and sociology. I am married to my favorite person in the world and we have one daughter.
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8 Responses to The Importance of Personal Responsibility

  1. Ned's Blog says:

    Great piece, Paul — and the growing lack of people willing to take accountability in society really worries me. It’s all your fault…

    • paulbrodie says:

      Usually I would put up a defense for myself, but this time, I think you are absolutely right: I am responsible for the world’s actions. You see, it all started a month or two ago when I started reading this radical blog, I won’t say the blog’s name, but it rhymes with Fred’s Hog, but I won’t bore you with the details, primarily because boring into someone sounds horrific, and very irresponsible. Anyway, Thanks!

      • Ned's Blog says:

        Yeah, I think I know that guy. We’ll just call him Ted’s Dog. If the world takes legal action against you for it’s woes, I would definitely name that guy in the lawsuit.

        • paulbrodie says:

          I’m going to try to be a journalist and protect my sources…of radicalism. Honor among writers and thieves. Or something like that.

  2. Great post! The subject matter has been on my mind for a while. It’s enjoyable and reassuring to read it in someone else’s words. Thank you.

    • paulbrodie says:

      Thanks! I’m glad you liked it. We’ve got a lot of issues in society and I believe the only way to conquer most, if not all, of them is from inside out, starting at the individual level. From reading several of your posts it seems you might feel the same way about that subject. Your blog name says it all. In a sense it is every man for himself, but if we take that approach and couple it with the power of unity maybe we’ll be onto something. Bottom line for me is that we can’t rely on someone else to fix things. Gandhi said “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” It all starts at home (meaning the self).

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. Pingback: Running up the score | Paul Brodie

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