Skip to main content

Responsibility For, Responsibility To

One of the chief values in being part of a community whether it be a church, a town, or a country, is a sense of responsibility as a member of that community.

But we are also individuals, not just cogs in a machine. We make our own decisions, determine for ourselves what we believe, and shape our own lives.

Like many things in life, there needs to be a dynamic tension between individuality and community. In our faith of Unitarian Universalism, this tension is seen by the "bookends" of our Seven Principles. The Seven Principles are a set of promises, a sacred "to-do list," that every UU congregation promises to the other UU congregations that they will work toward.

The First Principle is that we affirm and promote "The inherent worth and dignity of every person." The Seventh Principle is that we affirm and promote "Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part." To be a Unitarian Universalist community means to hold those in tension, honoring the divine value of each person, while understanding that our lives are blended together and we must take the overarching wellbeing of all into our decision-making.

My systems mentor, Ken Shuman, refers to these questions about individuality and community in a framework of "Responsibility For" and "Responsibility To."

I am responsible for myself. It is my responsibility to manage my own anxieties, self-regulate, and work on increasing my emotional maturity.

I am responsible to others. Because I am a member of a covenanted religious community, I am responsible to them, to share my time, talents, and treasure. As their minister, I have an additional set of responsibilities to them, chiefly, to care about their lives. To love them. I am not responsible for Live Oak, I am responsible to Live Oak.

I am responsible to the larger community I'm a part of. There are medical professionals, grocery workers, first responders, sanitation workers, and others who have taken on jobs that make them responsible to our larger community, which includes me. And so I am responsible to them, to limit the spread of coronavirus. I am responsible to them in other ways, too, to advocate for fair working conditions and wages.

I am responsible to humankind and that intersects with my responsibility for myself. Being responsible for myself means it is my responsibility to seek out the best scientific knowledge available and to keep up with what is happening in the world. Being responsible to humankind means not re-posting information that I haven't scrutinized for accuracy.

Because I am responsible to humankind, I am limiting my physical interactions with those outside my household, while increasing my social interactions online. Because I am responsible to humankind, I wear a mask if there's any chance I will be within 20 feet of someone outside my household. Because I am prioritizing decreasing the spread of coronavirus over my privacy concerns, I have downloaded the Novid App and will use it when I leave my house.

I am responsible for myself.
I am responsible to you.


Popular posts from this blog

Don't Trust Your Instincts, or, "Well-Meaning People Can Exacerbate Big Problems"

My evangelical friends talk about being "convicted." That moment when you hear or read a message and like an arrow, it dives into your heart, and you know that you have been guilty, and you have some growing to do. At the very beginning of my learning about Bowen systems theory, the professor was laying out the basic idea: that we all feel anxiety, and when we do, we act (often in unhealthy ways) in order to lessen our anxiety. And in an unhealthy system with emotionally immature people -- a family, a business, a church -- one person's anxiety can trigger the anxiety of others. Here's a great primer on that. Really great. Like, watch it 20 times in a row. Or every morning as you drink your coffee. (I'm not kidding. I think your life would be better. Consider it a spiritual practice.) So back to my conviction moment. The professor went on to talk about how when we see someone who is "vibrating" with anxiety, our instinct is often to rush over,

The Most Controversial Thing I'll Write All Year

Back when you were a kid, you learned a lesson. It was wrong. And it's time for you to unlearn it. You learned that you were responsible for other people's feelings. Not that you should care about other people's feelings. (You should.) Not just that you should be sensitive to other people's feelings. (You should.) But you were taught that you were actually responsible for other people's feelings. It happens in almost all homes, even the loving ones. In abusive homes, it's more blatant. If Dad is unhappy, you get hit. So you learn that it is actually your responsibility to keep him happy, or there would be consequences. But even in non-abusive homes, it happened. If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.  You are not responsible for other people's feelings. That's their job. And in fact, you are crossing their boundary if you try to control their feelings. They get to decide how they feel about something, not you. They may decide that you

Me and My Collar

You may run into me on a Friday, in my neighborhood, so it's time I let you know what you might see. When I was doing my required unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), my supervisor suggested that any of us who came from traditions where a clerical collar was an option, take one "collar week," to see how we were treated, as opposed to wearing regular professional clothes. After a couple of days, I joked to the Catholic priest, "How do you manage the power?" In regular clothes, I would walk into a patient's room, and it would take about 5 or so minutes of introductions and pleasantries before we could really get down to talking about their feelings, their fears, the deep stuff. With most people, as soon as that clerical collar walked in the room, with me attached, they began pouring out all the heavy stuff they were carrying. I was riding the bus back and forth every day, and though not quite so dramatic, the collar effect was alive there, to