As individuals, we feel confined within our circumstances and bound to our attachments (whatever those attachments may be: to people, ideas, occupations, fears, desires, our pasts…). These in turn, make constant demands on our time and attention. They compulsorily ask of our responsibility. And these responsibilities –we feel-come in the way of a truly free life.
We theoretically understand that we, as human beings are bestowed with free will and the power of choice i.e. the ability to choose our course of action, but we often wish we were free from the burden of making a choice itself. The responsibility that making a choice entails- is a heavy load to carry. As a result, in spite of being empowered with the ability to choose our circumstances or our responsibilities, we find ourselves perpetually craving for freedom. For if choices truly did exist, then a difference- between a superior choice and an inferior one- would immediately be evident. In other words, one of the two choices would clearly lead us from entrapment to freedom. This however, is rarely the case. There seems to be no vertical ascension on having made a choice; no release. Choosing is more like a horizontal meandering- damned if I do, damned if I don’t! What initially feels like an escape from burdensome responsibility- within no time- finds us entrapped within a new set of circumstances. In a bid to replace our old circumstances we get attached to, and responsible for the new one.
So what does that mean? Are we all doomed to a life of enslavement- forever trapped in our circumstances? Or is there a freedom that awaits us?
In society, we exist within a matrix of relationships. As an individual, my sense of responsibility keeps me bound to these relationships. I find myself moving and operating within only a specific trajectory within this matrix. And even as a sense of duty keeps me tied to my family, my environment, my profession, my country; a constant call towards a greater freedom beckons.
What does it mean to be responsible? What does it mean to be free, to be liberated? Are freedom and responsibility two separate choices, two separate paths? Must one be forsaken for the other? Or is there- like everything else within this matrix- a relationship between them?
Freedom and responsibility are internal states, not external ones. The call for responsibility is a call of the conscience and must not be confused for an external demand to meet others’ expectations. Shouldering responsibility means acting authoritatively… and here is where the problem begins… here’s where we begin to feel bound, trapped and enmeshed. We’ve never questioned the true extent of our authority, of our capacity and duty ‘to do’. In general, we have an exaggerated notion of our doer status.
The times we live in, lay a great emphasis on individuality, ownership, authority, and success and accomplishment. These are the values of our times. The ideas of today are rooted in the idea of individual doership and by extension-in individual responsibility. We’re supposedly responsible for our successes or our failures, the happiness, health and safety of our families, or the profits and losses of the organizations we work for… Phew! What a tremendously heavy load to carry!
Being responsible today also implies being willing to be held accountable; to be willing to be the scapegoat on whom the hurt and the affected can anoint blame. After all, if we’re all doers and would like the credit for all the things we have done right; we must also be willing to take the blame when things go wrong because of our doing. But let’s pause a moment… let’s examine: do we really ‘do’ everything we claim to do?
For example, if I drive my car from point A to point B and I reach point B safely; many factors are ‘responsible’ for me having reached there unhindered and unharmed. The fact that the fuel in the car did its job; or the fact that everybody driving on the road with me did their bit and followed traffic rules; or the fact that the traffic lights were working- the list is numerous! And yet, oblivious to all this, I credit myself for being a ‘smart’ driver! Now, contrast this with a scenario where there is an accident. The two parties blame each other, or the poor quality of the roads, or to failed brakes; or to a dysfunctional traffic light… the list is indeed numerous!
The fact remains that everything I think I do, I do because I am silently enabled by other responsible factors that demand neither compensation nor recognition for having done their bit. Our capacity to do is often over-estimated and is in fact, nothing more than our ability to feel and respond. To respond to situations and circumstances is really all that we’re called to do. As deep is my ability to feel, that much full and wholesome is my ability to respond. In other words, the greater the space and freedom within me, the fewer the desires and fears that occupy my mind and heart; the greater is my capacity to feel and respond. If some amongst us possess greater authority than others it is because they are internally free from the unnecessary preoccupations and fears that bog most of us down. The only thing that we’re truly capable of doing is responding sensitively to circumstances and not ensuring or guaranteeing desirable outcomes. As individuals, we can only claim ownership of our responses, not of our circumstances. And the reason by which and for which responsibility is called upon is freedom.
Bound as we are within a matrix of relationships, we often find ourselves shouldering the responsibility for the irresponsible, the reckless and the immature. So, what must we do? What is my responsibility towards another who realizes neither his folly nor the true implication of his authority?
Just as there exist numerous responsible factors that enable and facilitate my free movement through life, I too, must- most urgently and in that very spirit- free another from disadvantage, ignorance, inability, fear, falsity and doubt.
True responsible action happens only when we’re free to act in our truest essence. And true freedom exists in the realization that we’re only essentially responsible. Freedom and responsibility are therefore intricately connected: you can’t live through one without being enabled by the other!