In just about any Hindu circle you can find yourself in you’re likely to hear of Dharma. It’s tossed around a lot, and while it’s super common I have found that most people – even when they know what it means – have a tough time verbalizing a good definition. I’m no different, but there’s a layer of meaning inherent to that term that I want to touch on. Responsibility.
Many know that it’s better to perform your own dharma poorly than to attempt and brilliantly succeed at someone else’s. As overused as that is, I love it and it’s one of the most endearing “doctrines” in all of Hinduism, so far as I’m concerned. A big part of this is responsibility.
The best and I have had numerous conversations about this. He’s made some pretty interesting life choices which have brought him some unfortunate karmic results. As we were discussing his ability to sift his way through these results, and what he might need to endure to get to brighter days, he once exclaimed, “I’m not going to be miserable for a decade!” Without going into details, this superficially sounds reasonable. But in reality he was demanding the easy road after he’d already screwed himself out of it. Another friend, from years ago, became very agitated with me when I questioned the role of his own responsibility in regard to a life-changing event he faced. And recently, I read on another blog maintained by a younger gay male who recently came out as HIV-positive. This young man seems to have a pretty good perspective on the matter of being HIV-positive, but a recent post on his blogspace (superficially) debated responsibilities falling on the shoulders of two people in a sexual relationship – one HIV-positive and one HIV-negative. His take was primarily that it’s as much the responsibility of the HIV-negative person’s to disclose their negative status as it might be for the HIV-positive person to disclose their own status. (I think he’s hitting on something important, but I’m not entirely convinced of his position.) America’s government is obsessed with responsibility. Almost everything touched by the government can be whittled down to dollars and who’s responsible for how they’re obtained and spent – and then we squabble over whether this is done responsibly or irresponsibly.
Responsibility is a weird thing these days. Maybe our concept of it is evolving as we are. I don’t know. But I do feel that we’re scared of it. We pay for overpriced insurance policies to avoid financial responsibility. We take people to court to hold them accountable for what we think should be their responsibility. And we project onto others our own guiding principles as we judge whether we think they’re doing what they ought to, or not.
It’s a funny thing, responsibility. It’s quite fluid and yet sure enough that it can be a determining factor in our life’s course. If you’re wondering how to decipher if something is within the reach of your personal responsibility, you can quiz yourself and maybe gain some clarity. You might consider the following if you’re debating the degree of responsibility that might apply to you:
1) Can anyone consider you at fault, to blame, or otherwise liable for actions considered?
2) Do you feel any sense of accountability to any who might be affected by actions considered?
3) Are you the direct cause of what happened, or can you otherwise be directly linked to it?
4) Are there expectations placed on you by others to do/not to do something?
5) Do you feel morally, legally, or mentally accountable for actions considered or performed?
I think, regardless of the context, if you answer “yes” to any of the above questions you should probably consider yourself responsible – even if only to a small degree. In fact, most of those questions are based on parts of the Merriam-Webster definition of responsible, so if you answered in the affirmative it’s safe to say you are to be held responsible.
Where dos this fit into the dharma we mentioned earlier? Right in the middle of it! No matter how you define responsibility one things is sure – it’s all you – and it’s expression will be unique to your path. This makes it a vital and integral task on the part of the individual to invest whatever might be needed to know who he is, as fully as possible. To be the best you possible – to have the best life possible – responsibility is a must.
Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha