By Hedwig Lewis, SJ
We are all familiar with the image of the Statue of Liberty. Not many are aware that there is a “Statue of Responsibility” in the making. in the West Coast of the United States. The sculpted 300-foot figure will have a pair of clasped hands oriented vertically to symbolize the responsibility that comes with liberty.
The original idea was the vision of Viktor E. Frankl, who in his best-seller “Man’s Search for Meaning” (1946) stated that: “Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.” The project initially was managed by the “Statue of Responsibility Foundation”. In 2013, the project was entrusted to the Responsibility Foundation.
Liberty and freedom are often, and mistakenly, used interchangeably. Stephen Covey, in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (1989) defines Liberty as a condition of the environment, essentially having a number of options, such as whether to go to a meeting, or stay home and do any number of things. Freedom is a condition of the person, the inner power to exercise those options. Freedom implies responsibility, the ability to respond thoughtfully and flexibly, depending on the circumstances.
To be responsible is to be “response-able”: able to make a response; able to do something. Responsibility leads to action. In truth, I am the only one ultimately responsible for all the actions in my life. “Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does” (Jean-Paul Sartre).
The relationship between freedom and responsibility is indeed complex. The challenge facing us is how to foster responsible, meaningful choices without externally limiting individual freedom. There must be a balance between the ultimate empowerment of freedom and the responsibility that our choices place upon us. We cannot feel so free that we ignore our responsibilities; yet we also cannot feel so restricted that we feel unable to choose a new path or a new course. Finding perfect balance is but a pipe dream. All we can do is recognize to which side we are out of balance, and consciously make our next choice to move back in the other direction.
Once we take 100% responsibility for our life our subconscious mind begins to discover areas we need to focus on and perhaps change to enhance the quality of our life, and the first step towards solving all of our problems. The mind will start to motivate us to achieve our goals. In contrast, most of us have been conditioned to blame something or someone outside of ourselves for the parts of our life we do not like. Blaming is detrimental to response-able behaviour because we surrender our power to change our outcomes when we do not own our freedom to choose. It is not the external circumstances that restrict us but our own narrow-mindedness.
When we accept total responsibility for our lives, we become aware that we create certain situations, and we create them for a reason. We also realise that while we cannot control the actions or behaviours of others, we can control our emotional response. With that perspective in mind, we start to look at these situations as the opportunities for growth and change that they really are. We accept the fact that even though there are numberless (and anonymous) people and influences that have a role to play in our life, in the final analysis it is ultimately only our choices that matter.
Taking full responsibility is a process, and may entail tackling a chain of little choices in order to achieve something. For instance, we have heard people say that it is hard to give up a habit like smoking. Fact is, however, smoking is a very conscious effort. You have to choose to do it. Firstly, of course, you have to make a conscious decision to purchase the cigarettes. You then have to open the pack, light the match and inhale. We make a choice to smoke – nobody forces us to do it. This example may help us understand that responsibility entails choices in varying stages that lead to success.
We are not statues or robots but warm-bloodied beings. Responsibility gives us freedom; it grants us true awareness of our power as a creator using all the gifts we have received from our Creator.