The Joy of Responsibility

I got an email last week that really got me thinking. The person expressed his appreciation for the series on Responsibility and then noted—“if there was more pleasure in responsibility, more people would be positively attracted to it.” That made me think … and think.

“Is there no joy or is there very little joy in responsibility?” “If there is joy and pleasure in being a response-able person, what is that joy?” “Do I take any pleasure in the experience called ‘responsibility?’ If the answer is yes, then what pleasures?”

That started me reflecting. What joy or pleasure do I experience from being responsible? The greatest pleasure that I experience in responsibility is that of sensing that I can take charge of my own life. I am not a victim of circumstances, a pawn in the hands of other people, or a straw blown about by the winds of fate. I can, and do, exercise a sense of control as I activate my innate personal powers. Those mental, emotional, linguistic, and behavioral powers both allow and enable me to choose my responses to circumstances, people, and fate. Then, by exercising the power of choice, I have the joyful delight of knowing that no matter what happens, I can always choose my attitude, my frame of mind, and my mood. For me, that is the first and the greatest joy—pure joy.

How miserable is the opposite! To feel that you are not even in control of your attitude strikes me as a really, really sad and miserable way to live life. To miss the joy of having influence over your own brain and mind describes the “learned helplessness” which Seligman discovered and which lies at the heart of clinical depression. Conversely the joy of responsibility is the joy of “learned optimism”—the sense that we can always make some response to what happens. And isn’t this the heart of NLP as it arose in the 1970s and as expressed in the phrase, “run your own brain.” In the beginning the developers noted that if you are not running your own brain, someone else will.

Another misery avoided by being and living responsibly is the misery of blaming and accusing others for one’s situation and/or problems. Yes, I know, some people actually take a sadistic joy in that. But that so-called “joy” is a sad and pathetic joy. Much more joyous is to feel free from the need of blaming. But you may ask, What is the joy of acknowledging our own error or mistake or failure? It is the paradoxical joy of knowing that if you made an error, then you can do something about it. You can un-make it. You can learn to avoid it. You can develop more competence and thereby make that response redundant.

You are also free from the pain of perfectionism. And if you have suffered from that mental- emotional disease, you know that there’s real joy in that! You no longer have to torment yourself with those inner voices, “I’m not good enough.” “It could be better.” “I need to be perfect, flawless, confident that I won’t make a mistake.” Talk about pressure! Responsibility frees you from that pressure and introduces the joy of being a real human being— fallible and okay with it. Now you can enter the human race and be a fully fallible and mortal human being. Now if you make a mistake (which you will), you can be self-respectful and self-compassionate. You can treat yourself kindly and gently and not beat up on yourself or insult yourself. This is the joy of being fully human and using mistakes for learning and developing rather than feeling bad.

There’s another joy. It is the joy that’s inherent in the art of responsibility which means you can live in the now without the need to replay old miseries from the past or borrow possible problems from the future via worrying. That’s because living responsibly orients you to live in the now. After all, you can only respond in the here-and-now. Sure, you can prepare yourself for responding later, but when you step up and take on a responsibility— you are living in the moment, in the now. So in this, responsibility facilitates the joy of the now. And that enables you to become more alive.

All of this suggest that there are many joys inherent in accessing the state of responsibility and developing as a response-able person. Sure, these are not the superficial joys being the irresponsible child. They are the joys of using your adult powers to forge your life and your future as you desire. The joy of the child is superficial because it is a joy of dependency, of being taken care of, of being protected, etc. The joy of the responsible adult is that of using one’s powers to influence oneself and others. This deeper joy includes living on purpose and fulfilling one’s highest self-actualization needs for beauty, meaning, excellence, and making a difference.
The deeper joy of the responsible adult is a joy that comes through rising up to meet a challenge. It is the joy of getting to the top of a mountain, finishing a race, working as a winning team, discovering the answer to a problem, etc. Unlike the passive joys of sitting on a beach, having your neck massaged, etc., this describes an active joy of responding that expands your capacity for responding and that makes a meaningful difference in your life and the lives of others.

Given all of this, what do you think? Is there enough pleasure in adult responsibility to attract you? Is there enough pain in being irresponsible or under-responsible to move you away from it? What other joys can you add to this list? What other pains have you suffered from the lack of adult responsibility? It’s worth reflecting on.

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