I have suggested here that liberty is closely related to justice, and that both depend upon moral responsibility. How can we think about these things, and find integrity in them and through them?
By responsibility I mean active engagement with the people and institutions around us as interested and caring citizens. Responsibility gives meaning and order to our lives. It is a partner to liberty, which cannot exist without it.
I refer to moral responsibility more specifically as our ability to respond on the basis of conscience, using personal judgment regarding what is right and wrong in human behavior, and acting with respect for the dignity of those we encounter.
A friend once pointed out to me that the meaning of “responsibility” might be found in the compound word, “response-ability.” Without this ability, justice cannot be realized and liberty has no purpose.
We heard from Viktor Frankl several weeks ago in a post entitled: “The Resilience of Inner Freedom.” Dr. Frankl emerged from his World War II ordeal in a Nazi death camp with the firm conviction that freedom can only be secured through responsibility.
“Freedom,” he wrote, “is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.”
For many of us, seeking freedom in our lives is a gradual process of maturing, letting go of dependencies, and trying to make a go at life with what resources we can gather or create.
This is meaningful for a time. However, we soon begin to realize that the society in which we live, and the material limitations in our lives, impose themselves on us in uncomfortable ways.
Do we then give in to anger – or feeling sorry for ourselves? Or, do we seek dignity in the face of limitation, asserting control over our personal vices, and engaging constructively in our community and the wider world beyond?
Many of us find it necessary to construct the lives we wish for from the wreckage of past mistakes, our own and those of others, and are grateful simply for the opportunity to do so. Even cleaning up a mess offers a certain satisfaction.
There is no happiness to be found in complaining. Self-respect cannot wait for things to change. We are each capable of responding to the world around us with dignity and creativity.
Contributing to problem-solving in collaboration with others is a choice that can bring great gratification, however difficult the challenges.
Accepting responsibility can mean many things depending on our circumstances. Usually we think of responsibility as the act of responding to what needs to be done. I suggest, however, that a core responsibility underlying all others is the imperative to build and ensure trust.
Without trust, the fabric of this nation will continue to disintegrate. Trust is the substance of integrity and the single most essential factor making it possible for us to build the future.
Can we find ways of thinking and being that are consistent with the foundation of justice we have considered in recent posts? The integrity of such a framework supports our endeavors in the same way that a sound physical foundation is required to construct a building.
A principled integrity gains primacy in our very identity: our character and way of being. But, it can easily be squandered in a moment of carelessness.
So, there you have it: Integrity is the quality of being; trustworthiness is the substance of that quality; and, responsibility is the action with which we make it so. And, finally, justice is the beginning and the end, the matrix that holds it all together.
Responsibility follows immediately from integrity and is the expression of it. Stability and order depend on this. When responsibility is understood and applied to the challenges we face, progress is possible. Otherwise the integrity of intention is lost.
There is no middle ground. Either integrity and responsibility are wholly present or they are compromised. Without them no civilization is possible.
Next week: On dependability and trust
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