Just looking at those two words together reminds me of hiking to Mirror Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in July 2003. The four women we were traveling with had not taken into account the fact that I was not only the heaviest, but had smoked for over twenty years. It would be no small task to change elevation by twelve hundred feet, marching six and a quarter miles up hill – carrying eighty pounds of trail mix on my back. Four days later sitting at Outback Steak House, with more than potato skins on the plate in front of me, I was exhilarated by the achievement.
At one time in my life I would have found the idea, let alone the application of Personal Responsibility to be distasteful. I shied away from accepting the fact that my behavior has an effect on the lives of those it touches; that my actions of thoughtlessness, selfishness, laziness, or lack of kindness have everything to do with an outcome. This kind of moral philosophy is not new. Self-help books, talk show hosts, religious leaders, social norms and the laws which govern us have been reflective of this, ‘reap what you sew’ or ‘what goes around comes around’ approach. My thoughts and opinions posed here are neither fresh nor original. My ideas are merely notions. So it is that the first rule of personal responsibility should be to not take oneself seriously. Flexibility or lack of rigidity, with an air of teachability must prevail. Personal Responsibility begins and ends with me. My successes are your successes. My failures are mine alone.
Some of my favorite words remain to be compassion, understanding, willingness, and humility. Whereas personal responsibility is concerned, compassion has a home and can grow from the seeds of decency, mutual respect, and love. This state of being able to look past ones individual urges is the fertile soil. Compassion is born and nurtured from a state of being capable of looking beyond my individual benefit and on to the contribution given to the whole. Compassion is, YOU matter to me. Compassion is a generous soul in action – alive, alert, and responsive to the needs of others, not Self-imposing. Selfless compassion cannot take front and center.
Understanding is mental neutrality, not firmly planted in any pre-conceived bias. Attempting to understand the situation of another can thrive in an atmosphere of openness. Open to reason, to listen, to not persuade or convince. Understanding takes cerebral aerobic energy to pull-off. Understanding is the head above the heart of compassion.
Willingness to consistently act responsibly requires discipline -- a daily devotion to continued propulsion. By not taking a stance or becoming entrenched, willingness may flourish. By being willing to learn from the experience, knowledge, and wisdom of others, my own depth of awareness often expands. Likewise, by observing the poor example set forth by some humans I can learn how not to behave. When presented with the question of how to change another person, I can only hope to do so with limited expectation, by changing my own mind first. I must endeavor to present a model, rather than be verbally instructive. Advising, lecturing, being accusatory or presumptive usually meets with defiance.
This brings us to the practice of humility. My working definition of which is the act of being teachable. Humility is not a grand culmination, like my climb to the top of that mountain, but is, in my opinion the vigilant perseverance of truth. I do believe in universal cause and effect relationships. I do not fully understand how these work. Through my life experience I see that when I give my very best, I am in return given all that I need to manage, survive, and cope. Likewise, I have seen others through a lack of self-restraint, mental maladjustments, selfishness, and deceit to be held accountable by cause and effect. We may not always be privy to their suffering, but trust that in some way, it is there. Humility will make every attempt to serve these people as well, albeit through her boisterous brother humiliation. When humility is practiced continuously, I am usually graced with more than enough love and happiness than I deserve.
Of course I know that I have been, “preaching to the choir.” Those people willing enough to read the pages of a newsletter dedicated to the prevention of homeless animals already possesses these qualities. That’s one reason we get along, our common bond joins us in harmonious action. Although it seems that we climb an insurmountable cliff which continues to accumulate hazards and pitfalls, rest assured that making a choice to be the difference in only one life is an extraordinary endeavor.