Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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The Limit of Responsibility

This article talks about responsibility and its limits.

It's actually a lot simpler than most people realize. Responsibility and authority must balance. Responsibility without authority is abuse; authority without responsibility encourages abuse. You are responsible to the extent of your authority and no further; you are responsible in proportion to your authority and no more. And no less.

If you can control a thing, you are responsible for it. Otherwise you are not.

If you can stop a thing, you are responsible for it. Otherwise you are not.

If you know about a thing, and it is within your influence, you are responsible for it. Otherwise you are not, unless it is your job to know about it, in which case you are responsible for making sure that you do know so you can manage it as intended.

You aren't responsible for things you can't avoid. You are only responsible if you have a free choice among options with meaningful differences. There is no moral weight to doing business with scoundrels if all the available options are scoundrels; but there is if you choose to deal with scoundrels in preference over honest people.

You aren't responsible for things that are beyond your ability to fix, or fix yet. If your parents abused you growing up, you do not suddenly become responsible for being a fully functional adult at age 18 -- even though the law and society generally make that demand -- because the damage doesn't magically evaporate on the stroke of midnight. All the scars are still left, and it typically takes years to repair the damage, if it can be fixed at all. You are only responsible for what you can actually do, and what you can do is try to overcome those past hardships. What happened in the past is not your fault. If you don't work on it, only the results of that choice are your fault, because it was your choice to make.

You aren't responsible for anything that happened before you were born. However, if you choose to take active advantage of the results, you have endorsed them; if you work against them, you have rejected them. This applies to such things as racism, which began long ago but continues today. Even if you cannot stop the nonsense, you can certainly call it out as nonsense and fight it to the best of your ability. You are then not responsible for its inevitable bad results, even if people who resemble you or purport to speak for you have done foolish and reprehensible things.

You aren't responsible for the actions of people you can't order around or otherwise influence. The Great Orange Garbage Fire is not really answering to anyone. You are not responsible for the actions of an ignoramus. You are responsible for yourself and to some extent for the people under your influence. If you are an employer and you let your employees rob your customers, you should not be surprised when they embezzle from you also, as you have indicated that stealing is acceptable in your subculture. Set a good example and hold people to respectable standards.

You are also responsible for your choices that contribute to other people's actions. If you choose to support policies which abuse refugees in hopes they will stay home and die quietly instead of annoying other nations in attempt to flee, then you have no moral grounds to object when drowned toddlers wash up on the beach. Rising death toll is a direct result of closing off safer routes of escape, and generally people prefer to die trying to escape than die doing nothing. Pushing back refugees kills people, and ten or twenty years later everyone talks about how monstrous it was for people to do that in the past, but few people talk about it being monstrous today. What was, is. To support a policy is to endorse its outcomes. You may only bear a small sliver of the guilt, but guilty you are. If you object to the outcomes and the policies and work against them to the best of your ability, then you are not responsible for the predictable tragedies due to other people's decisions. If you made a decision and later realize it had consequences you dislike, you may renounce it and clean up the mess and move on. That's learning; that's life. Just don't keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

You are responsible only for what you control, but you are responsible for all that you control. Choose wisely.
Tags: life lessons, networking, politics, safety
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