The responsibility paradox

Dr. Scott Peck believes that we cannot solve life’s problems except by solving them. This statement, he says, is idiotically tautological or self-evident, yet it is seemingly beyond the comprehension of much of the human race. This is because we must accept responsibility for a problem before we can solve it.
We cannot solve a problem if, “It is not my problem.” We cannot solve a problem by hoping that someone else will solve it for us. I can only solve a problem only when I say, “This is my problem and it is up to me to solve it.”But many, so many, seek to avoid the pain of their prob­lem by saying to themselves: “This problem was caused me by other people, or by social circumstances beyond my control, and therefore it is up to the other people or society to solve this problem for me. It is not really my personal problem.”
Dr. Peck observes that the extent to which people will go psychologi­cally to avoid assuming responsibility for personal problems, while always sad, it is sometimes almost ludicrous.
Most people who come to see a psychiatrist, it is believed, are suffer­ing from what is called either neuro­sis or character disorder. Put simply, these two conditions are disorders of responsibility, and as such, they are opposite styles of relating to the world and its problems.
The neurotic assumes too much responsibility; the person with a character disorder not enough. When neurotics are in conflict with the world, they automatically assume that they are at fault.
When those with character disor­ders are in conflict with the world, they automatically assume that the world is at fault.
Few of us can escape being neu­rotic or character disordered to at least some degree. The reason for this, Dr. Peck believes, is that the problem of distinguishing what we are and what we are not re­sponsible for in this life is one of the greatest problems of human existence. It is never completely solved; for the entirety of our lives we must continually assess and reassess where our responsibilities in the ever-changing course of events.
“Nor is this assessment and re­assessment painless if performed adequately and conscientiously. To perform either process adequately we must possess the willingness and the capacity to suffer contin­ual self-examination. And such capacity or willingness is not inherent in any of us.”
In a sense, Dr. Peck tells us, all children have character disorders, in that their instinctual tendency is to deny their responsibility for many conflicts in which they find themselves. Similarly, all children have neurosis; in that they will in­stinctual assume responsibility for certain deprivations they experi­ence but do not yet understand.
“It is through a vast amount of experience and a lengthy and successful maturation that we gain the capacity to see the world and our place in it realistically, and thus are enabled to realistically assess our responsibility for the world and ourselves.”
There is much that parents can do to assist their children in the maturation process. Opportunities present themselves thousands of times while children are growing up when parents either can con­front them with their tendency to avoid or escape responsibility for their own actions or can reassure them that certain situations are not their fault.
However, to seize these op­portunities, Dr. Peck believes, requires of parents sensitivity to their children’s needs and the willingness to take time and make the often uncomfortable effort to meet these needs. Moreover, this in turn requires love and the willingness to assume appro­priate responsibility for the enhancement of their children’s growth.
Conversely, even beyond simple insensitivity or neglect, there is much that many parents do to hinder this maturation process.
Neurotics, because of their willingness to assume re­sponsibility, may be excellent parents if their neuroses are relatively mild and they are not so overwhelmed by unneces­sary responsibilities that they have little energy left for the necessary responsibilities of parenthood.
Character-disordered people, however, make disastrous parents, blissfully unaware that they often treat their children with vicious destructiveness. It is said that “neurotics make themselves miserable; those with character disorders make everyone else miserable.”
It is not simply in their role as parents that character-disor­dered individuals are ineffective and destructive; these same character traits usually ex­tend to their marriages, their friendships and their business dealings – to any area of their existence in which they fail to assume responsibility for its quality.
This is inevitable since, as has been said, no problem can be solved until an individual assumes the responsibility for solving it. When character-dis­ordered individuals blame someone else for their prob­lems these problems persist.
“By casting away their responsibility they may feel comfortable with themselves, but they have ceased to solve the problems of living, have ceased to grow spiritually, and have become dead weight to society.”
The saying attributed to El­dridge Cleaver speaks to all of us all the time: “If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem.”
As citizens, we are affected by a variety of issues at the local, state, and national levels. Some attempt to meet this challenge to make a difference. Nevertheless, many resist taking any kind of responsibility. They find it easier to look to others to be messiahs to solve all the world’s problems.
Rather than take any active

role in gain­ing and maintain­ing certain rights, they feel no responsibility for making clear choices about the quality of their citi­zenship. They may claim they are doing no harm to society, but once again, “if you are not part of the solution you are part of the prob­lem” resonates.
The paradox is that we are responsible for everything and at the same time, we cannot be responsible for everything. The answer to this is not to run with only one side of the equation but to embrace both sides of the truth. William Faulkner captures this eloquently:
“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world, in thousands of rooms like this one, would do this, it would change the earth.” He was speaking at the graduation of his daughter form the high school.
Not everyone can have the groundbreaking impact of Rosa Parks or Mother Teresa, but we can each take a stand against all kinds of evil in the world. Indeed the battle against evil frequently begins at home. We must deal with our families and ourselves first, and work to create healthier com­mu­nica­tion and interaction. “Think globally, but act locally” is a good guideline.
Admittedly, no one can study everything or take action and re­sponsibility for everything, yet it is not always enough to be concerned only with matters that directly affect ourselves. Beyond our own rights and standing up for personhood, we need sometimes to be willing to take a stand on behalf of others, even when there seems no direct benefit to ourselves.
“Sometimes we must be willing to do so at our own risk. The respon­sibility for discerning when to go out on a limb is a choice that each individual must make depending on what he or she is willing to give up or lose for the sake of standing for something.
Since we cannot be involved in ev­erything, we must be selective about our level of action. For this, Dr. Peck advises that we must discern our call­ing. “And how God calls one person will not be the way He calls another. I do not consider my calling more noble than that of working with the poor. Yet it has become clear to me over many years that, much as I wanted to be noble, I do not seem to have a calling to do hands-on work with the poor.”



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