A useful guide to responsibility: What it is, what does it mean to be a responsible person, how does it benefits us, how I can be a more responsible person. Discover the difference between responsibility and guilt, and everything you need to know about social responsibility.
What do we mean by responsibility? If you stop to think, this concept, surely, has been hovering over our heads since we’re kids. Almost from the moment, you get to decide whether to follow the rules and obey or “challenge authority” (mom and dad) we have heard the words “You have to be responsible”.
If you ask a child what it means to be responsible, he or she will say something like “do the right thing,””do what Mom and Dad say,””do my homework”. Adults use the term responsibility to make children understand and assume that they must behave well and do the tasks adults request of them.
Do you think the term responsibility involves more than just obligations? What comes to your mind when you think of responsibility?
What does it mean to be responsible?
If we look at the etymological origin, the meaning of responsibility is not so much related to the tasks performed or the obligations, but rather with commitment involved.
Becoming a responsible person means being able to consciously make decisions, conduct behaviors that seek to improve oneself and/or help others. Most importantly, a responsible person accepts the consequences of his or her own actions and decisions.
The word responsibility comes from the Latin “responsum” (the one who is forced to answer to someone else). The verbs “Respondere and Spondere” are closely related and were widely used in the legal field. The first meant defending or justifying a fact in a trial and the second meant swearing, promising or assuming an obligation.
Therefore, we can define a responsible person as one who accepts the results of the decisions he or she makes. Oxford dictionary defines responsibility as:”The state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something.
This definition of responsibility emphasizes the need for the person to comply with the negative consequences of his or her actions.
From what we can see, it is a term that has different evaluations and can be quite abstract, but we use it regularly in our daily lives.
Why is it important to be responsible?
Being responsible brings us many benefits. It can help you achieve your goals and objectives in any area of your life. Responsibility allows you to create principles, morals and helps you to lead your life. Being a responsible person helps us to:
- Be more honest: When we tend to tell the truth and keep our promises, the people around us will believe us and see us as an honest person.
- Be more independent: Assuming the consequences of our actions will help us make better decisions.
- Be more reliable: By being responsible, we gain other’s trust and we will also gain confidence in ourselves. Doing the right thing will make us feel good. And even if we are wrong, we will be satisfied because we know that we have done our best.
The value of responsibility
Responsibility is taught from childhood. Both in families and in schools, the aim is to educate in values and morals.
It is clear that everyone wants a committed and responsible partner, responsible children who don’t get into trouble, responsible parents and teachers who take care of the children, professionals who do their work responsibly. Why is that?
Because having people like that around us generates confidence, gives us security. We think,”yes, he is a responsible person, he will do it and things will work out. Feeling safe is one of the basic necessities in Maslow’s pyramid.
This is one of the reasons why in our society, responsibility is so positively and highly valued because it gives us security, confidence, and a certain stability.
How can I be more responsible?
There is no magic formula that makes us more responsible. However, responsibility can be trained.
If you want to fulfill your purposes, your obligations, and commitments, what you need is, to a large extent, predisposition and motivation. Now, if you’re still reading this then it’s a sign that you do want to be more responsible so here are some guidelines for you:
- Set goals: It’s important to know what we do things for. Having a sense and direction helps us to be consistent and to continue to do our duty. If you think the goal is too long term, set small goals to achieve it. I advise you to write them down. It sounds silly, but putting it on paper makes them real. Writing your goals can help you be more responsible!
- Objectivity: What is under my control or up to me and what is not? Make a list of the things that depend on you and you can control them. Your attention must be directed to those aspects, for what does not depend on you is not your responsibility.
- Routines: If it takes a lot of effort to “get dressed”, it’s best to get organized. If you have a routine, you’ll know what to do at every moment. But not only that, sometimes, knowing how much time you have to put in the effort also helps. “Come on, it’s only an hour of study before I go to the movies!”
- Rewards: Internal attributions come into play here. If you’ve reached what you set out to do, why not admit it? It’s your moment, give yourself a pat on the back.
- Be honest with yourself: Have you failed, was it something that you could control? Take responsibility, assume the consequences and analyze what you could have done differently, how would you improve for another time?
- Share your plans: I’m not talking about posting on social networks. No, I mean something more intimate. Talk to your partner, your mother or your best friend and tell them what you’re going to do, when and how. This way they will ask and become more involved and there will be no escape, you will have to comply.
- Operationalize: This means that the things you can take responsibility for are actions. For example, picking up your room, delivering a job, preparing food, etc. These are concrete behaviors that you can take on as responsibilities and obligations to fulfill, but you cannot assume responsibility for the consequences. For example, the teacher can give you an A, people might like or not the food you prepared or flatter you but this is not up to you. Therefore, specify activities and tasks that you have the resources and willingness to do and get on with it!
I’m not going to trick you, becoming a responsible person will not come overnight. It requires effort and a commitment. Remember, the key to success is consistency. I encourage you to focus and get it.
You can start by writing your final goals in capital letters and their subtypes or sub-objectives with minuscules. It begins little by little, assuming responsibilities and step by step.
Remember the responsibility for your actions (not the arbitrary consequences). If one day you don’t get the result you were expecting or you haven’t found the clues to using your willpower, don’t punish yourself. Analyze, think that you are on the right track because you are realizing the difficulties and accept the challenge again.
Responsibility & guilt
Guilt is not the same as responsibility. Being responsible for something doesn’t mean guilty. This stuff that seems so basic but how many times have you been surprised saying: “It’s not my fault!”
To understand each other, I’m going to tell you a story, which may even look familiar:
“You found a WhatsApp message just as soon as you got up. You have to finish and deliver the project by 13.00h. In addition, it is essential to be on time to the meeting and to do things perfectly, because it is a very important client. You invest all morning in this assignment, all your effort. When you leave the house, you take the subway, but it’s late. “I should’ve left earlier, I’m gonna get caught.” You’re already five minutes late. You leave the subway and there is a rally that crosses the avenue “I can’t believe it! Did it have to be today?” You’re going to the other sidewalk, you’re 15 minutes late. You get to the office, wait for the elevator. When you get upstairs, you look at the clock before you go in but you are 20 minutes late. The client’s gone, your boss is going to kill you.”
- I told you it was so important that you got here on time! Look at the time! The client’s gone very angry because of your tardiness! It was your responsibility!
- You think I did it on purpose? It’s not my fault that the subway was late and there was a rally cutting down the avenue!
What’s going on here?
Everything you did was with good intentions, effort, and interest. However, different factors have caused you to fail to deliver the project on time.
- What is the real responsibility? Deliver the completed project by 13.00h
- Whose responsibility is it that the client got angry? The client’s own responsibility, because we cannot control the emotions that another person feels.
Guilt carries implicit components that don’t help us at all. For example, it is not the same being responsible for a decision as being guilty of a decision. What does guilt involve?
- Voluntary Action: To make someone feel guilty of something, you need an active search to get that result.
- The result will be negative. If you’re guilty of something, that something is going to be negative.
- It adds up: The fact that we blame someone for an event means that the only way to prevent it from happening would be to eliminate the culprit. However, being responsible means that he or she engaged in certain behaviors that helped produce that outcome.
- Guilt leads us to think about the cause – consequences: Not everything in life happens because of cause and effect. Most things depend on a multitude of factors, as in the story we’ve seen before. Even sometimes, changing one of them doesn’t give us get a different result.
It is important that we bear this in mind because sometimes we take responsibility for things that we cannot control, that we could not change even if we wanted to change it with all our might. Feeling guilty for events, results or situations that do not depend on us affects our mood, frustrates us and often angers us.
The same thing happens when they make us feel guilty. We see it as unfair because what has happened was not in our plans either. Before blaming someone, ask yourself if the negative results obtained have been intentionally sought by the other person or not. Make sure you have done everything in your power to fulfill your responsibility.
Responsibility: Why do I feel bad when I’m not responsible?
In social psychology, Wiener’s theory, the theory of attributions refers to the explanations given by each one of us to the causes, reasons or results of what happens to us. Attributes have a strong influence on the way we feel, how we relate to others and even how we act. And of course, it influences us when we take on responsibilities.
- External attributions: When the explanation or cause of the facts is transferred to something external. We have no responsibility. For example, when we say that “you get on my nerves” as if we were not in control of them and it was inevitable to feel that way. Most people use this type of attribution to evade responsibility, doing so in the wrong way. Another case could be when we say “it was such bad luck”, implying that we have all the skills and abilities necessary to obtain an optimal result, however, chance has negatively influenced the result= zero responsibility.
- Internal attributions: The explanation or cause of the facts is in ourselves. It can be used when you succeed “thanks to me this happened”,”without my effort it wouldn’t have been possible”. Also in a situation where we know that there have been negative consequences for another and we assume that we have been involved. We ask for forgiveness by taking on the responsibility “I’m so sorry”,”Sorry, I didn’t realize”.
Clearly, a person’s attribution style can have a great influence on their self-esteem, their self-concept and, why not, their happiness. For example, someone who does not take responsibility for his or her accomplishments out of excess modesty will have a low self-concept. Giving the impression that his accomplishments never depend on him. On the contrary, a person who always takes credit for his or her merits will give the impression of being a self-righteous, arrogant, and narcissistic person.
What do you think will happen if we use internal attributions for negative and external results for positive ones? Exactly the same.
We must be consistent and objective. It is good to follow our principles and take responsibility for the consequences of the things we do wrong, but for the things we do well. This will give us emotional balance and promote our self-confidence.
3 tips to be more socially responsible
When we speak of social responsibility, we are referring to certain specific guidelines that are set in a given society, with the aim of ensuring that co-existence is correct, peaceful and leads to well-being.
Social responsibility affects relationships with others, but also with oneself:
Tip 1: Commitment
One of the angles of social responsibility is commitment. We commit ourselves continuously. In our work, with family, friends, partners, etc. Commitment means making a promise to someone and keeping it.
It’s funny because on many occasions, we make promises to ourselves and we skip them. “On Monday I will start eating healthy for sure”, ” I’m going to the gym three days a week, no excuses”. I am absolutely sure that one of these promises rings a bell for you, and I am also sure that one of them has not been fulfilled. Don’t you think it’s strange that even though we’re committed to ourselves, we don’t carry out our promises? Imagine what would happen if you made those promises to someone else:
- “This Monday, yes or no, grandma, I’m going to take care of you”: But you don’t show up.
- “Today I have to work, but tomorrow I will help you to study son”: But you don’t help him.
- “I’m teaching at the gym three days a week.” But you don’t show up.
Why do responsibilities and commitment towards others seem more important than to ourselves?
Tip 2: Obligations
The second angle of social responsibility is obligations. They’re the ones that are taught from childhood. At every age and at every stage of life, it is up to us to learn and incorporate into our repertoire different tasks, in order to adapt ourselves to the society. These are our responsibilities and/or obligations.
Many times, these obligations are not said out loud, they are just assumed. We have certain activities that become a part of our obligations. For example, Mom always puts the washing machine in, Dad always does the shopping, my brother always takes out the dog, I set the table.
What if one day Mommy gets off work late? No clean clothes
What if one day my brother forgets to take the dog out? He pees inside the house
What if dad doesn’t have a car to go shopping that day? No food
They may seem extreme examples, because in general, what happens is that responsibilities rotate. However, sometimes this happens and we find ourselves in situations like “Mom, I don’t have any clothes!” Dad, you haven’t bought me the cookies I like!”,”John is grounded because the dog has peed!”
I invite you to consider examples in which the people around you had implicit obligations and responsibilities, not agreed upon, have failed to fulfill them, and it has become a conflict when it comes to assuming the consequences. Whose responsibility is it? Whose fault is it?
Tip 3: Willpower
Willpower could be defined when we continue to make efforts and sacrifices to achieve a goal or objective, which will bring us great satisfaction in achieving it.
This becomes more relevant when they are short-term goals. It’s easier to maintain willpower. Therefore, it is good to set small goals when the effort has to be very constant over a long period of time.
It also helps to wonder why. Why did I decide to do this? Do I still want that? What do I have to do to get it? Answering these questions will give you strength and make you reaffirm your decision, prompting you to continue forward!
As always, I invite you to comment below, what did you think? What do you do to be responsible? If you have any questions or want to share your opinion, go ahead.
This article is originally in Spanish written by Patricia Sanchez Seisdedos, translated by Alejandra Salazar.
Psicóloga Sanitaria especialista en Psicología clínica.
Enamorada de las relaciones entre pensamientos, emociones y comportamiento humano.
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