A Life that Matters: Re-thinking Responsibility as Intimacy and Wholeness

What would it be like to experience responsibility as a way of being, that is, a way of living and bringing forth your reality, rather than as blame or burden.

Maybe we do not “take” responsibility; we express and generate responsibility.

Let’s get a bit clearer here by distinguishing this way of understanding responsibility from living responsibility in terms of the “blame game.”

Here are some possibilities:

You take responsibility for the things that show up in your life, things like breakdowns in coordination and communication; you point the finger at yourself.

You blame someone else, or, some external forces for undesirable outcomes in certain areas of your life: you enter the mode of victimhood, and point the finger at something outside yourself. 

In either option, if blame is your standard, you remain a victim, either to yourself or to others.

When we view responsibility as burden and blame— whether we point fingers at others or ourselves— the idea of responsibility is articulated in terms of victimhood, retribution, and ultimately, control. We want to identify the source and origin of our suffering. 

We can glean something important from this common view: with responsibility as blame, we’re seeking an active source and a meaning for things showing up as they have.

Now, let’s shift things a bit, and explore what responsibility can mean when we express it as an opportunity to participate and respond to the unfolding of reality.

Let’s think outside muddled clichés like the “law of attraction” (not because it is untrue or unhelpful, but because it is unnecessarily limiting).

Responsibility as an active acceptance of ourselves as bound up with source, as creative participants in the unfolding of reality, shifts how we approach problems.

The world is much richer than a mirror reflecting what we put out, or a projection of “attractions” that we draw toward ourselves.

The world is a network of interactions, social and environmental relationships, vast and layered patterns and networks of meaning and habits out of which the narrow self, this person in this place, emerges.

Like the climate, we are each a holistic pattern, dynamic and trending in certain directions, and no single day of our lives (or, by this metaphor, no single day of weather) can capture the breadth and structural dynamics of the overall system and the direction it trends. 

Now, when we want our lives to unfold as more than meaningless events or series of random happenings, we need to develop the capacity to observe the dynamics between the narrow self, and the broader field of interactions and relationships (the broad self) that courses through us:

You are both a narrow and a broad self, and in that sense, you are implicated as both origin and product of this vast, collective system.

Taking responsibility, then, can indicate a shift in how one relates to the broader network of actions, and personal and cultural patterns that shape one’s unique articulation of the whole.

We can see that while we are each a unique and narrow expression of dynamic living, we are not fundamentally separate from the play of the whole.

In the areas of your personal life— family, occupation, spirituality, leisure—you can view the outcomes of your life as structured by the “total climate” (the way your life has been organized, for better or for worse, up till now), and transform that organization by committing yourself to living a different organization, a different way of being.

This requires thinking in new ways, speaking in new ways, and having the courage to commit to responding and solving material and emotional problems in new ways, since these factors condition the way your world unfolds. 

Crucially, you’ve organized yourself in relationship to others, and in relationship to a social and biologically diverse environment.

The natural and social environments are not just “there for you,” they fundamentally are you; you are a function of relatedness to the total stretch of interdependent networks of life.

What might this mean?

This reveals a capacity to see the world as both a narrow self and a broad self; taking responsibility as an active source in the unfolding of reality means that you move out past the narrow self, past the borders of your ordinary ego-habits, reactions, and ingrained ways of speaking.

You must immerse yourself in the relatedness of your being to all things around you (some of which, are obviously closer and more relevant).

You must experience the world as if you are implicated and penetrated by its every expression, and this what we call, “intimacy.”

Intimacy speaks to sincere, deep, and caring connection to what shows up, and this can never happen when we hide behind the isolating distance that sees the world as “me and everything else.”

Taking responsibility is not fundamentally an issue of blame, but an issue of intimacy!

Relate to the world not as a visitor or a self-interested individual competing and trying desperately to get what you want out of it.

Relate to the world as something you care deeply for, as something you are implicated in producing, and something that penetrates you.

When doing this, you experience responsibility as fulfillment in a world fraught with tragedy, danger, hope, and love.

You are responsible as “source and product” means that you are no longer isolated, and you are a creator who has a say in what unfolds.

© 2017, Dr. Kevin Perry & Bettie J. Spruill, Ideal Coaching Global and Ontological Living, LLC

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Showing 3 comments
  • John C.

    This article presents a unique take on life, on living, that threatens my very existence.

    What challenges me the most is the idea that people are a product of their surroundings. I understand that communists believe the same thing, that our environments shape who we are. Perhaps I am missing the bigger picture.

    There will always be elements in life that we cannot fully control, deep love, like in your Valentine’s article, is one of them. By accepting that these independent factors exist, maybe we can better create, and I would add frame, our worlds.

    (We face life attentively, even if doing so makes us half-blind, in order to update our state and realize our potential)

  • Diana Guzman

    Loved it! Thanks

  • Adam Feibish

    I believe I’ve been exposed to this concept – this possibility – before, in Bettie’s course on Mastery.

    It seems to require such a massive shift from ingrained ways we view ourselves that I feel a sense of overwhelm creep in as I read it. I notice frustration rising because I can’t quite grasp all the deeper philosophical implications as quickly or completely as I’d like. i.e. I can’t digest it all as thoroughly and masterfully as I want to.

    Then I get it – it’s perhaps less a concept to be understood rationally, (or cerebrally) and more an invitation to simply let go of the constraints and tendencies my narrow self imposes as it tries to reconcile it’s separateness (or independence?) when contemplating a more deeply connected alternative. What does this say about who I am? What does it mean if I can never again blame others for “bad” things in my life??

    In other words, I feel the tension of my separate self having its separateness questioned and then I remember – it’s ok. And I’m blaming this article for how I feel in this moment… 🙂

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