I have suggested here that liberty is the outgrowth and result of justice. I believe true liberty is found when we bring ourselves into alignment with justice. And, this can only be accomplished through moral responsibility and accountability.
The implications of this proposition are profound. Let’s unpack it.
I understand moral responsibility to be the ability to respond on the basis of conscience, using personal judgment regarding our responses to the world around us. And, I hope we will act with moderation, and base our actions on careful consideration of the principles of justice to the best of our ability.
We will not agree on many things, but moral responsibility requires that we think and act carefully with regard for our fellow human beings and the well-being of our communities.
A friend once pointed out to me that the meaning of “responsibility” is suggested 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 blog 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 much 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 rebellion – or feeling sorry for ourselves? Or, do we seek dignity in the face of limitation, assert control over our personal shortcomings, and engage constructively with the world around us?
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 can offer a certain satisfaction.
Still, self-respect cannot wait for things to change. We are each capable of responding to the world around us with dignity and creativity, and we must. This requires initiative and constructive action.
Seeking to accept responsibility depends on our circumstances. What I am suggesting here, however, is that a core responsibility underlies all others: This is the imperative to build and protect trust.
Why is this critically important? Because ultimately all complex problem-solving depends on trust.
This is because, fundamentally, justice depends on trust.
Without trust, justice (and liberty) will remain elusive, and the fabric of this nation will continue to disintegrate. Trust is the substance of integrity. It will be essential for building the future.
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 necessary quality of being; trustworthiness is the substance of that quality; and, responsibility provides the constructive action with which we make it so.
Finally, justice is the beginning and the end, the matrix that holds it all together.
To put this in another way, responsibility follows immediately from personal integrity and is the expression of it. Social order and stability 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.
A note to readers: I wish to express my gratitude to regular readers, particularly on the Facebook page, for your active engagement and constructive feedback. I could not reasonably proceed otherwise. Please look for the next post on or about July 28.