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The Art of Responsibility, Essay Example

Pages: 1

Words: 1199

Essay

Introduction

Responsibility is an important aspect of anyone’s life, especially in light of those who are followers of Christ. In “The Responsible Self”, Richard Niebuhr presents an interesting theory on this topic, and how we are to approach it. The extent of its effectiveness, its useful application in daily life, and whether its adoption is to be valued are discussed herein.

The Responsibility Theory

The four elements of responsibility raised by Niebuhr are quite significant and worthy of consideration.

Firstly, the Idea of Response is the way in which we react to something done to us, and the way in which we interpret the actions done to us; known as moral action. We often instantly react to something or someone by instinct, and the way in which we determine our action is based on this first element.

Secondly, Responsive Action is a result of how we react to actions or circumstances that we come across. Often, responsibility comes when we make ourselves part of something around and about us; it is these same situations or circumstances that determine whether we use a moral action.

Thirdly, Accountability is the way in which we conduct ourselves and our ability to act on our thoughts and feelings. Those who accept the consequences of their actions, and continue to do them because they are the right thing to do, ultimately become accountable.

Lastly, Social Solidarity is a result of our continued interaction with members of a community or society. We can only become responsible if we do not isolate ourselves from others, but rather interact with others on a daily basis, and thus become true members of society.

Analysis

Such a model causes us to question ourselves, and if we are indeed living responsibly. Response can be positive, negative or even neutral: it can be done in a moment or more. However, responses take time, especially if the decision being made is an important one. If it is not, it can be decided on without a moment’s hesitation. What matters is the importance of the response, and whether it has a moral meaning. This also determines whether we are responsible; often, we can think we are acting responsibly, but our actions prove otherwise. This is the chief reason that determines whether we are truly acting as a responsible citizen, and one that ensures that we act in a way that is in line with our true character. Whether these types of decisions continue and become a habit also determines our accountability. It is often put to the test when we are the most vulnerable, or feel deeply about certain matters. In addition, our interconnection with others ensures that we are not doing certain things to boost our own ego’s, but rather to make the world we live in a better place.

One of the most significant factors of this model personally is our involvement in society. As Niebuhr states “the self comes to knowledge of itself in the presence of other selves and that its very nature is that of a being which comes to knowledge of itself in the presence of other selves and that its very nature is that of a being which lives in response to other selves” (p. 71). In other words, we will come to know who we really are in the presence of others, and will live our lives in response to those around us.

Effectively, Niebuhr summarises both our thoughts to events around us, and our action to them. He does so in a way that is not surpassed by any other model mentioned; this is because he ensures that all courses and choices are accounted for, whether positive or negative. Such a responsibility is often placed on every person on a daily basis, despite the fact that we may not be aware of it. It is what we effectively do in our response that determines our level of responsibility.

Although some of the other models mentioned discuss responsibility, it does not tap into the depth of onus and impetus as Niebuhr’s theory does. What is highlighted should be our response to various stimuli which we come across, and how these actions determine our behaviour. The theory of responsibility in this four part model deals with such notions in an intellectual yet understandable manner.

We have an inherent responsibility to ourselves, to our community, and to God. We can choose the way in which we react and determine our moral compass, and this also dictates our long-term behaviour. We can also abide by our instincts to help others and in so doing, help ourselves, in an effort to make society a better place. We can indeed please God by being of assistance to our community and improving ourselves in our own special way. In so doing, we can fulfil our purpose in life. Responsibility affirms: God is acting in all actions upon you.  So respond to all actions upon you as to respond to his action (pg. 126).

Strengths and Weaknesses

The concept of responsibility in its four elements is very intricately placed into the sphere of everyday life, with certain actions resulting in the idea of becoming responsible. It is very interesting to see this model in action, as it creates a chain reaction or ripple effect. As soon as one person starts acting in line with responsibility, others will no doubt be changed or motivated to do the same.

Past, present, and future are dimensions of the active self’s time fullness (pg. 93). How we choose to do things impact our lives in all three aspects, as Niebuhr asserts. We can also change the future, but not change the past; but we must decide what we do in the present. This impetus on reality is to be really valued.

However, by doing such things, we cannot save ourselves. The theory of responsibility does not extend to cover the concept of grace. Although each person has the ‘responsibility’ to respond to Christ Jesus, who we ultimately choose depends where we will ultimately be, and not just the mere ‘moral action.’ As we can choose to do something, we can also choose, or not choose, to believe in it.

Despite touching briefly on salvation at the outset, it is not clearly incorporated into the theory itself. Grace and salvation go hand-in-hand, and our responsibility depends highly on these two traits. Niebuhr’s emphasis on both of these may have been overlooked due to the assumption that readers would already be aware of such, and may have taken them into consideration.

Nevertheless, to adopt such an outlook on responsibility and importance is commendable for anyone and everyone to accomplish. It is based on the will of God for our lives to live by, what is in effect, the Golden Rule. When we let our responsibility break through, we consciously allow others to do the same.

Conclusion

Nevertheless, it is crucial to examine our own lives and decide whether we are indeed living responsible lives. Our actions, decisions and choices do have a profound impact on our character, and the world around us. We ought to examine our lives and what we do so as to leave a greater mark on those close to us, and ourselves as well.

Reference List

Niebuhr, R. (1999). The Responsible Self. Westminster: John Knox Press.

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