It is certainly easier to look at the troubles in the world and feel sad, or guilty, or angry, or even despairing than it is to feel responsible. When something happens, small or large, close to us or far, we wonder why “they” don’t do something about it. We are upset that such things are allowed to continue – that “someone” doesn’t do something.
Outside of our professional life (where duties and responsibilities might be captured neatly in a position description), notions of responsibility can be foggy, particularly when it comes to responsibility connected to local, national and global communities.
I recall as a child my mother telling me to eat my dinner because there were children starving in some other corner of the world. Back then I wondered how my eating my dinner helped a child elsewhere. Now I know that it was likely that there were children going to bed hungry within driving distance of my childhood home. Now I wonder about the notion of responsibility – not as it relates to hand wringing and regret but rather how it relates to choice and acts – to what we choose to do and to the world we choose to create, individually and collectively. Do we build walls or doors? Do we divide or unite? Do we make choices based more on care than fear? What is it that is said about who qualifies as our neighbor? No, it doesn’t take much reflection to realize that responsibility is… well, a very big responsibility.
Yet, in a world with too little kindness, each act of kindness shifts the balance and ripples out into other lives. In a world where it is easier to blame than to risk trying, attempting to make a positive difference can be a profound act of hope and love – even if we judge our positive difference to be small in the face of large challenges.
Responsibility also extends to ideas – responsibility for the power of ideas, both in positing and supporting those that might make one’s self and others wiser and more caring, and opposing those ideas that push in the other direction.
Yes, accepting the notion of responsibility in the context of community – of having “the courage of one’s convictions” – is an active state of being, not a passive or even necessarily a safe way of being – but certainly a path to a purposeful way of being.
We can sit (in a chair plain or fancy) and watch the drama unfold on the world stage. We can feel bad or sad or angry or occasionally happy – and feeling is an important first step. We can care about what befalls those caught up in one drama or another – and truly caring can keep our spirits alive. But, if in the end we do not get up and at least try to make a positive difference, we have not really understood or accepted the responsibility that rests with each of us. We are alive right now and capable of thinking and acting – we are responsible.
As the New Year approaches, we in the Tseng College, along with our colleagues at CSUN, plan to sit for a moment in our holiday best with our friends and family and enjoy the moments we are given. But then we will get up and work individually and collectively to try to make a positive difference for those we serve and for the world we share – close to home and farther away. Ours is, after all, a very small world – a hardly visible speck in a large universe – that depends on all of us who inhabit it today to determine what tomorrow will be like.
As always, we invite you to join us.
Dean of CSUN’s Tseng College
& the University’s Senior International Officer