Responsibility has more to it than doing an assigned job nicely. In its true sense it refers to our ability to choose our responses to challenging and provocative situations. ‘Response- Ability’ – the ability to make a choice, and respond based on correct principles, helps us grow in life.
Many grow in life following the general populace; ‘everyone does it’. Spiritual leadership however implores us to pause and ask the question, ‘do I take the responsibility for this’. In other words we ask ourselves if we are willing to pay the price for our present actions and are we willing to recognize the fact that events that occur in our lives today are a result of our own past choices. Taking this major step of accepting ‘responsibility’ empowers us to perform our work in a positive frame of consciousness. You wouldn’t moan or live a life of constant regret; instead you’d choose to be an instrument of change.
Taking serious personal responsibility
Those shirking the responsibility for their personal lives often play the blame game; they always attribute their shortcomings or failures to other causes. Hence they limit their chances of personal growth. A person of character accepts his mistakes and seeks to learn from them. Mahatma Gandhi said be the change you want to see in the world. Instead of complaining about the bad state the world and it’s billions of humans are in, a spiritual leader works to be part of the solution by first choosing to be responsible for his thoughts and actions. Albert Einstein implored us to rise to these challenges, “Man must cease attributing his problems to his environment, and learn again to exercise his will – his personal responsibility”
Radhanath Swami often narrates the example of his own spiritual teacher, Srila Prabhupada who from the age of seventy till the age of eighty one, performed the herculean task of travelling all over the world and spreading the message of God and love all over. He had been endeavouring for over four decades with not much material success. However instead of complaining, he chose to take serious personal responsibility for his mission, even at the risk of inconvenience and death. Radhanath Swami says purity of our intention and the choices we make is the force that can foster positive changes in the society. “If we take any leadership position in the spirit of service and responsibility, we will prosper and be empowered individually and collectively”
Taking personal responsibility helps improve relationships
In one instance I observed closely how taking personal responsibility for our lives, thoughts and feelings in our daily life, can help us achieve success and also develop healthy inter personal relationships.
Once while counselling a young member of the ashram I noticed his agony at not getting recognition and rewards for his tireless endeavours. While he worked hard in his services, his team leader took all the credit and glory. This junior often complained to me and asked me to inform the senior to be not so haughty and ambitious. When I asked him if I could report that he was angry with his senior, he immediately backed out. Although he wanted me to address the situation, he didn’t want to put himself in any future trouble. I could see he was avoiding taking responsibility for the pain and hurt he felt and instead wished someone else fought for his cause. Initially I suggested he practise the principles of humility and tolerance; soon I realized the practical difficulties with this approach. It was more of psyching oneself with lofty spiritual principles while internally struggling to come to grips with the harsh reality for having a need for appreciation and success. Finally I decided to address this situation by taking shelter of the principle of ‘taking personal responsibility’.
I suggested he accept the fact that he has a need for getting recognition and rewards. His first reaction was defensive; he denied, living out an artificial assurance to himself that he was humble and didn’t need any glory. I then reasoned that if he was indeed so humble why he was disturbed and why was he complaining. After repeated prodding, finally he accepted he had a need for sharing the credit. This was a major achievement; by taking this step the young man was declaring his vulnerability and confessing his need. I then suggested he express this humbly to his team leader. And much to his surprise, the team leader was sensitive to his needs and immediately rectified himself. All the while the leader had been thinking that his subordinate was content in being in the background and not wanting any glory. When the junior confessed his need, the leader being a gentleman, was forthcoming and presented the junior as a key team player. The relationship that was breeding on silent, cold signals, now opened up with positive possibilities. They have since then been good friends. This candid relationship developed when one person chose to take the responsibility for his own feelings and needs.
Responsibility- the seed of transformation
Later the young monk grew up to be counsellor and leader himself; he learnt to recognize his own feelings, needs and desires, and accept the responsibility for change. He then offered his internal struggles to God for healing during his prayer sessions. Besides, this honest exercise helped him be sensitive to others’ needs for respect and recognition. Over a period of time the culture of honest introspection, sincere service attitude and heartfelt prayers helped him overcome his self centred needs and extend towards others more selflessly. The seed of this positive transformation lay in his willingness to take responsibility for his own inner struggles.
We are fallible mortals and have our own strengths and weaknesses. When we choose to take responsibility for our lives, we take a humble position; this humility attracts higher divine powers to bestow grace upon us and this in turn helps us grow in life, with sobriety and maturity. The German poet and novelist Johann Goethe captured the essence, “Let everyone sweep in front of his own door and the whole world will be clean”