The Hidden Danger of Personal Responsibility

the hidden danger of personal responsiblity

It’s hard to make it in life without some personal responsibility. Without the desire to do things, make wise choices, and take action it’s hard to get ahead. But what if what we know has been tainted by a grave misunderstanding of what this means? What if we’re missing the hidden danger of personal responsibility?

Social Media, a Billionaire, and Empty Houses

I saw a couple things on social media the other day that made me stop. Although one was on Facebook and one was on Twitter, they seemed connected. In fact, they seemed completely intertwined.

They seemed intertwined in the same way that the richest man in the world is connected to people on food stamps. They seem connected in the same way that there are five times as many vacant homes as there are homeless in the US.

After all, when we look at those on food stamps and those who are homeless, there is a focus on personal responsibility that people need to take to succeed in life.

Unfortunately this ignores the hidden danger of personal responsibility that most people don’t see.

Don’t get me wrong: personal responsibility is crucial. The problem is we’re not applying it correctly.

The Value of Personal Responsibility

We have to take responsibility to get the most out of life. When people don’t take responsibility a lot of bad things can happen, and taking responsibility is the first step to moving forward.

Yet the hidden danger of personal responsibility is that we don’t apply it. It’s not that we let people off the hook for not taking responsibility; it’s that we often don’t put the right people on the hook to begin with.

The Hidden Danger of Personal Responsibility

When I was on Twitter the other day I saw this quote: “People who go to therapy are often in therapy because of the people in their lives who won’t go to therapy”. About the same time I saw this on Facebook: “Wounds are not your fault, but healing is your responsibility.” 

The problem is that we live in a world that thinks that both of those are true. It’s the same world where the richest man in the world earned his fortune on a company where 1 in every 10 people in some locations are on food stamps and people reportedly pee in bottles because they aren’t allocated time to make it to the bathroom.

It’s a world where we have more homes than homeless and yet we can’t figure out how to fix either problem. It’s a world where “personal responsibility” has become the buzzword to absolve ourselves of any responsibility to our fellow human beings and simply cast it all on their shoulders.

This is not the way it should be, because personal responsibility isn’t one-sided. There is a much better, richer, fuller way to live.

A Better Approach

When I saw that message, “Wounds are not your fault, but healing is your responsibility,” I froze. That’s not how it should be. We shouldn’t leave each other to our own sorrows. We should help each other. We should feel a responsibility to help each other heal.

When someone is sick, you don’t just leave them alone and say it’s their responsibility to get better. No, it’s our responsibility to look out for one another. We check on them. We send them cards. We bring them soup. We pray for them or, better yet, pray with them. We visit them (when that’s the responsible thing to do).

Because we are not alone. The hidden danger of “personal responsibility” is that it tries to get us “off the hook” looking out for one another. Personal responsibility goes both ways. Just like the people in therapy who are there for the people in their lives who won’t go, a lot of our issues in our society are there because of people who think “that’s not my problem; that’s their responsibility.”

It Takes Two

Let me ask you this: does the man who could take his pick of nearly 100 countries and buy it outright* yet has employees who struggle to pay bills, that same company that didn’t pay taxes last year but asks us to give charitably to pick up the slack and then they ask fellow employees to donate sick time for Covid-19-related absences – is this man taking his responsibility seriously or is he falling short?

Do these employees have a responsibility to pay their bills, make wise choices, and stay safe? Yes. But the company and the man who started it have a responsibility to their employees, a responsibility that is greater than food stamps, urine-filled bottles, and co-worker donated sick time.

We are in this together, and unfortunately the idea of personal responsibility has led us to a dangerous level of individualism where we try to get the most while giving others the least. That’s not responsibility; that’s greed.

Our Responsibility

We are better when we look out for each other. We succeed more when we work together than separately. In the same way that happier employees are more productive employees, we are better people in a better world when we see that personal responsibility is not only a responsibility for ourselves, but for others. It’s not enough to give the bare minimum; we must treat others as we want to be treated.

The hidden danger of personal responsibly is that we ignore our responsibly to each other,. However, if we focus on treating each other as we want to be treated, we not only create a better world for others, we create a better world for ourselves as well.

* if countries were sold like that.

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About the author

David is a father, speaker, blogger (obviously), and author of How to Create Amazing Presentations sharing the tools, tips, and techniques of the experts to make you an amazing presenter, 7 Steps to Better Relationships built on the stories and lessons on this blog with seven easy steps to help you maximize your interactions with the people you care about most, and The Man in the Pit to help you care for loved ones struggling with depression.

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