When I was a teenager, there were many things that I related to as “my responsibility.” In the spring and summer, it included mowing and edging the lawn. In the winter, it was shoveling the snow off of the sidewalk and driveway. It was getting to my job on time at the IGA store, and then giving full effort. It felt good. I liked feeling respected for it. Or praised. I liked the feeling of accomplishment.
In addition to the praised side of responsibility, there’s is also an “obligation” side, isn’t there. I relate to heaps of that too. Not necessarily liking it, but feeling that it was mine to take care of. Or that “someone had to do it — might as well be me.” Hmm…, there are many people who live admirably from just these orientations.
And now, as a more grown and cooked human being, I find myself wanting to explore the edges of “responsibility” with a bit more nuance. What it is and isn’t? What’s mine to take on or not take on? Beyond jobs, what is responsibility for process, or for principles? I am a facilitator after all, often working with groups of people from varied walks of life.
These questions are very alive for me as I reflect on working with people who have been in a lot of tension, or in a lot of disagreement. It’s the kind of tension that is so out there and present in the world that has it’s impact on us, even indirectly. There’s racism. There’s trauma. There’s injustice. There’s violence. There’s sorrow. There’s grief. And fortunately, there’s joy and celebration also. All of it — I find increasingly that there is need to understand and act upon with much increased awareness.
Even the language of “take” is a bit disturbing to me. Take it, like snatching it away? Like owning? I’d like to think more of “contributing” and of “creating.” “Response – able” is what one of my friends reminds me of. There is some power in the semantic shift, isn’t there. Response able, as in, “I have capacity.” Response able, as in, “I can see what is needed.” And even response able, as in, being able to differentiate what is someone’s “stuff” that I can choose to be in or choose not to be in.
I’m learning that one of my responsibilities in the work that I do is to create container. Just that. I generally think of it as container for learning, connection, and work to occur. I’m glad that these are often containers that inspire, that add life, that add energy. However, I’m also learning that it’s not all easy, or attractive. There is plenty that we humans want to avoid or don’t really know how to be in. There is hard stuff. And pain. And disagreement. And triggers that we bring out far less than our highest selves. I’m learning that so many of us need container to be real and daring in that.
I’m learning about rigor in all of this. I’m grateful to have learned process from some good friends, particularly with The Circle Way, that strengthen container. I think I’m also learning to invite and encourage broader shared responsibility.
And I’m learning that I’m not done learning about responsibility. Response. Ability.