Distinguishing Responsibility For and Responsibility To

From: L. Michael Hall
2022 Neurons #5
January 31, 2022
Distinctions #5

Here is a distinction that most people do not know and do not make and because they don’t, it creates tremendous mental and emotional distress in their lives. What’s also interesting about this one is that in many languages, it is not easy to even talk about this distinction. That’s because, for the most part, it does not exist in that language. Here is the distinction short and sweet:
∙ Responsibility For describes what you are able-to-respond-to that belongs to you and for which you can be held accountable.
∙ Responsibility To describes the person or persons you are responsible to, namely, the relationships that you have and the obligations that are inherent in them.

So one refers to personal accountability and the other to relationships—two very different subjective experiences. They are not the same, not at all! What is inside of responsibility for are all of the things that you and only you can do. Most essentially are the four personal powers that enables you to respond— thinking, emoting, speaking, and acting. These are your powers and only you can make these responses. Your mental responses are so much yours, you cannot say that anyone else “makes” you think, imagine, question, doubt, remember, etc. Those are your functions. You are responsible for them. And whatever responses you make mentally, you will experience the consequences of them.

Your emotional responses are also so much yours, that you cannot say that someone else “makes” you feel something. Your emotions are yours. You create them. When you experience an emotion it is the result of your thinking, valuing, believing, etc. that you have learned or experienced. Someone may trigger you with a word, a gesture, an action, but your emotional response is yours no matter how much you wag your finger and try to blame them. So also with all of your linguistic and behavioral responses, they are yours. They may be in response to what someone else said or did, but they come from you and so you are responsible for them.

Think of all of these responses as your “response zone” or your “locus of control.” Imagine standing in a circle and out of that circle comes these four crucial responses. And if every adult lives inside of their circle of responses, then you are not responsible for their powers— what they think, feel, say, or do. They are. But if you have a relationship to them, you may be responsible to them. If so, then the kind and quality of the relationship will then determine what you are responsible to give to and receive from them.

Imagine two circles. The circle you live in and out of which you make your mental, emotional, verbal, and behavioral responses. That is the circle you are responsible for. Then the circles of the people all around you in your life— family, friends, associates, colleagues, acquaintance, the public in general. Each of them, operating from out of their power zone, are responsible for themselves. To some of them you are responsible to give and receive certain things— whatever conditions that the relationship requires. Generally, adult to adult, it will be an equal and mutual exchange so that what we want, we receive, and what the other wants from us, they receive. In that state, we say the relationship is working. If you are giving but not receiving, then eventually your relational “bank account” with that person will go bankrupt and the relationship will explode or die, or possible be reconstituted.

The adult–child relationship is a dependent one, the parent gives and the child receives. As the child grows older, and becomes more and more capable of responding, more is expected in return. So with any other dependent relationship, as boss–employee. The big distinction in responsibility to relationships is that they are conditional. All relationship are conditional. There are conditions to be met in order for the relationship to thrive. That’s why it takes an independent person who has identified and developed her response-powers to be capable of healthy relationships.