The Chambers Dictionary defines responsibility as a “state of being responsible: a trust or charge for which one is responsible.” It is much more than that. It is about choosing. It’s a corollary of freedom: of freedom that succeeds as a social principle.
Yes, it includes citizens who accept responsibility for the consequences of their action too. When this happens, freedom realises its zenith — not otherwise. Else, freedom would be reduced to a mere licence — of freedom with self-interest ‘rules.’
Mahatma Gandhi recognised the chaos that follows when we deny our responsibility and proceed in pursuit of self-interest. He summarised our responsibility for each other in his ‘Seven Social Sins,’ a keynote on how social evil can run asunder — politics without principle; wealth without work; commerce without morality; pleasure without conscience; education without character; science without humanity; and, worship without sacrifice.
All this is nothing short of a classical paradigm: a prototype of values and courage, one that reads like a modern roster, or aphorism. It reflects Gandhi’s genius, his sublime vision — a powerful reminder of the times we now live in today, and for tomorrow.
This is not all. Responsibility, for Gandhi, meant disciplining oneself — to live responsibly according to a clear ‘accountable’ code, and setting a good example for others in so doing. On a broad preamble, one could think of responsibility as a three-legged stool: responsibility for self, including self-discipline for others, and generosity for all living beings on this planet, aside from leadership. The inference is obvious. Responsibility ‘cultivates’ us to move towards industrious independence, and towards each other too — of a percept that we are all together in an interdependent world, and worthy no matter what we own, or who we are by way of colour, creed, race, career, status etc.,
This isn’t an easy equation, all right, for all of us to feel comfortable. But, for a responsible person the whole thing is celestial drama, or a will of the Supreme Element. Call it god, or what you may. They will go easy on oneself, adopting an altruistic and patient disposition. They are cognisant that acting unselfishly and kindly towards others begins with taking responsibility for your impression on them. This also broadens the spaces we share and it makes you more comfortable to be with.
The onus, therefore, is on us, and us alone, no matter our divergent perceptions. We have to foster the notion of thought at the heart of our responsibility to each other. It is something that begins early in life and becomes eroded, at times, when we grow up. It’s something that we learned from our parents — parents who never resorted to intimidation. It’s also taking responsibility for our own costs, keeping in touch with the four — fire, and air, earth, and water — elements of life.
As David Abram put it so perceptively in his book, The Spell of the Sensuous: “To listen to the forest is also, primordially, to feel oneself listened to by the forest, just as to gaze at the surrounding forest is to feel oneself exposed and visible, to feel oneself watched by the forest.”
In other words, it’s all of us, and all the parts of us — of how we face our own options and also make our own choices, aside from useful, harmonious decisions, while ‘finding’ Gandhi in our mind and heart, not our wallet.