“Neurons” Meta Reflections 2015 #40
September 14, 2015
Creating Response-Able Persons #5

Responsibility is a meta-state. It is comprised of a primary state as you engage in doing or experiencing something in the world. Then to that primary state of engagement, you layer onto it a few key variables—awareness, ownership, acceptance, appreciation, etc. Then all together these come together to generate a strong personal sense of both the ability and the sense of obligation to respond. When awareness of your fundamental powers plus a sense of ownership come together it gives birth to the meta-state of responsibility.

About responsibility, lots of people wonder, “How can I be a more responsible person?” “How can I help my employees take on more responsibility?” When I first got into real estate as a means for wealth creation, I asked myself, “How can I find renters who will be responsible and act responsibly?” Parents ask these questions about their children and their parenting, “How can I raise my children to grow up to be responsible persons and manage their opportunities, talents, etc. well?”

When a person is responsible, he or she is empowered to act on his or her abilities in a way that fits for the activities of life: working, relating, contributing, enjoying, growing, learning, etc. In this empowerment, the person is proactive in that he takes the initiative. She doesn’t wait around until she just has to act, she thinks ahead about what needs to be done (proactive) and then initiates a response (takes the initiative). These are expressions of being a responsible person.

Opposite to being and living responsibly is being reactive, playing helpless like a victim and so blaming and accusing, and/or being passive and letting opportunities and life pass one by without stepping up to take action. The opposite may also include being paralyzed by fear, dread, anxiety or some other emotion. Then instead of acting responsibly, one shuts down and/or gives in to discouragement, depression, and “just getting by.” That’s the weak side of things. The strong side is being irresponsible. That is, being hostile and destructive. This person fails to appreciate the value of things and is positively irresponsible.

In not being responsible then, there are numerous alternatives. On a continuum there is sitting passively and doing nothing and letting things get messed up by inattention and neglect. I’ve seen people do that in the houses which I rent— things go bad and things get messed up, not because someone has thrown things around the house, but because they ignored things that needed attention and let them go until. Then the problem grew and grew until it was a major disaster. Others are not being responsible because the actions they are taking are the wrong ones. They destroy the very things that are needed in their lives. I once saw the end result of a young artist who got into a negative state and in that state tore up and burned a decade of his art work. Now it was all gone.

That’s the dark side of responsibility— when it goes wrong, when it becomes irresponsibility. The bright side of responsibility is proactivity and initiative. Here the person knows and understands the responses that she can do, accepts the obligation to self and to others to handle those responses in a way that enhances one’s life over the long-run. This person operates from a sense of intentionality and choice. He sets high level intentions and then expands his awareness to understand his range of choices. He creates a set of practices (discipline) that accords with the exercise of his talents and skills so that it develops, expands, and manages them well.

As a responsible person, she will persist in that set of practices, recognize them as a discipline, and willingly organize her life around them. Then, when there is a set-back or disappointment and she is knocked down, she gets up again. She “bounces back” and this resilience itself is part of her responsible actions that keeps her on course and able to make great things happen in her life over the long-run.

From this description we can see that there is a sense of will on the part of the responsible person, they intend and attend (“will”) want they want and then follow-up with a set of practices (a discipline) that allows them to turn it into life-style. By contrast, the not-responsible person is either lacking will (energy, focus, interest, passive) and/or too willful (stubborn, insistent on his way, defiant, hostile, destructive).

In terms of Meta-Programs, this maps the continuum between un-responsible (irresponsible) to responsible and then over-responsible. Bob Bodenhamer and I put that in the book on Meta-Programs, Figuring Out People, as one of the semantic meta-programs that governs a person’s perceptual sorting and responding. My original research for this was stimulated by my need to find “responsible” people to rent my properties to. After having some not-so-pleasant experiences with some irresponsible persons, I wanted to figure out how to find responsible people. And I knew that advertizing, “Responsible persons wanted for a 4-bedroom home…” would not do it.

The continuum of how people handle their capacity for responding gave me the area to go find the clues which I needed. Now I could look at several areas of their lives to see if they responsibly handled those areas and if so, was this style habitual and in character for them. So today I ask and sometimes check out how they treat their car, their dog or cat, how they handle a conflict and a mis-communication, etc. I check on whether they are on the passive side or the aggressive side in terms of using their response-powers. In conversation with them, I look for situations where something didn’t go well, was a set back, something was a mistake and then use that to understand the person’s style of responding.

We need responsible people if we are going to have a good world— a good home, a good business, a healthy community, etc. So search for and helping to create responsible people lies at the heart of leadership at all levels. To your success in this!

L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.