Thoughts on Responsibility
by Ernest Armah
“The world needs more men and women who do not have a price at which they can be bought; who do not borrow from integrity to pay for expediency; who have their priorities straight and in proper order; whose handshake is an ironclad contract; who are not afraid of taking risks to advance what is right; and who are as honest in small matters as they are in large ones. The world needs more men and women whose ambitions are big enough to include others; who know how to win with grace and lose with dignity; who do not believe that shrewdness (craftiness) and cunning and ruthlessness are the three keys to success; who still have friends they made twenty years ago; who put principles and consistency above politics”.
From the beginning of this year, I ring-fenced my mind to think more about what brings progress and improvement in the conditions of people. In whatever way our mission in life is scripted, a constant within it is the element of self-responsibility. Victor Frankl was right in saying that “every day, every hour, we are offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determine whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you or your very self, your inner freedom; which determine whether or not you would become (a) plaything of circumstance”.
On my bed whilst I type this is Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. I’m yet to finish. However in short, leaf by leaf, his book tells how human ingenuity and innovation has brought about progress from the era of the Stone Age to the modern age of technology. “Erstwhile zoologist, conservationist, and Journalist, Ridley posits that as long as civilization engages in exchange and specialization, we will be able to reinvent ourselves and responsibly use earthly resources ad infinitum. Humanity’s collective intelligence will save the day, just as it has over the centuries…”, says the Los Angeles Times on Ridley’s book. The mediating factor in Ridley’s account is responsibility.
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines responsibility among others, as “the state of being the person who caused something to happen”. Emotional apathy, sitting on the fence, i-don’t-care, it’s-none-of-my-business don’t make things happen. They sum up to irresponsibility.
Last Saturday, I visited my alma mater, where I had my primary education. The sight was sore to both eyes and nose. The school has become a rendezvous for miscreants, much of the infrastructure has been despoiled and the physical environment is depressive enough to undercut learning. I had the chance of meeting one of the teachers who was apparently running a weekend class for some pupils. In our conversation, he complained about the state of affairs of the school – pupils who don’t learn, theft of school books, drug addicts who intrude the school compound, delay on the part of government in completing a new building structure, and so on. Paradoxically, this is the school which nurtured my interest in literature more than a decade ago. Clearly, the pupils of this school would be denied the same opportunity I had. This is the price we pay for every act of irresponsibility – we make the past the envy of the future. Such an aberration.
The 21st century holds much promise for the responsible; for those hard-nosed about positive and sustainable change. Life is about two things. Progress or regress. Whichever one we experience depends on what we do today. The only good thing that happen to people who choose to perch their ass perpetually on whatever it is, is stagnation.
The epiphany of our capabilities started from the day information was liberalized. Taking responsibility for our lives has never been this exciting. In the palm of our hands, at the entrance of our ear canals and in the liquid crystal display (LCD) before our eyes, we are fed with millions and millions and millions of information. The only price we have to pay is information overload. None the less, the fantastic thing is that we have been made ‘second-hand dealers in ideas’ (to borrow my boss words). Within a couple of hours, we can crowd-source, collate and put information from diverse points into local relevance.
Under a climate of responsibility, we would serve each other very well. We would interact everyday on the basis of trust. We would pursue our individual goals with a measure of certainty. The needy would be helped. The lazy would be damned. The bar of meritocracy would be raised. Industry and performance would prevail over bribery and corruption. In all of this, we would collectively be drawing closer to prosperity. Obviously, a kind of prosperity that would be sustainable as it would be recycled.
Responsibility does not taste like candy. There would be mountain-top highs and deep-in-the-valley lows. But we need to believe in ourselves. Our tenacity through it all would open better chapters of prosperity for us and others. After all, prosperity is intentional, not accidental.
We have every right to be optimistic about the future. The audacity to flaunt that right should be predicated on a dogged will to be intolerant of stagnation and any stronghold that tend to hold us back.