Have you ever noticed how the word responsibility gets thrown around a lot? Does it seem strange that in spite of that we have so many pressing problems in our world?
I think it is worth asking why that is.
Responsibility Is Not Stewardship
When we talk about responsibility we are usually referring to tasks:
- you are responsible for certain tasks in your work.
- you are responsible for your share of the work at home
- you are responsible for your health
- you are responsible for how you treat others.
Notice that all of these responsibilities have a predominantly task oriented short-term focus.
A short term focus is not intrinsically problematic unless that is all that is going on. What is interesting is that this kind of responsibility is very compartmentalized. Therefore it is very difficult to get a big picture perspective and we live with a kind of short-term tunnel vision. When people do not have perspective, they are usually reacting to their circumstances with all of the negative implications that go with being reactive.
This short term responsibility structure doesn’t just apply to individuals. When individuals who operate this way create groups and organizations, they often create similar structures, institutions and cultures. When the word responsibility is used there is often an implied expectation that we support the status quo – the economic and cultural system that we live in and currently we have a short-term oriented one.
Supporting one’s culture can work some of the time; however, all cultural ecologies have a life cycle. When the system is not longer working and devolving, supporting it may be counterproductive and even self-destructive. It can also mean living in a state of continual crisis.
Why Responsibility Is Not Enough
When we focus on short term responsibilities we may think that we are doing the right thing, and in some ways we are. However there is a considerable downside:
- we may organize ourselves around taking care of the latest issue or emergency
- we may spend time being consumed by the emergencies of others.
- we may chose easier activities which are faster to complete over activities that require more skill and sustained attention.
- we are likely to ignore longer term maintenance tasks until they become the next emergency.
- we become short-sighted and neglect important parts of life in favor of survival strategies
Good intentions can get us in a lot of trouble by making it difficult to set priorities in a way that supports us in a long-term and sustainable way.
Crises can take over our lives and prevent us from engaging in any sort of growth and development. We may think that we are doing the right thing by rising to the occasion when a problem presents itself for attention, and actually be shooting ourselves in the foot if we make this process a way of life. In fact, it can feel like we are digging our own grave.
We instinctively known when our way of life is not serving us. If that way of life is the norm, stepping outside of it to make new choices, can be difficult and require a lot of courage.
How Stewardship Helps
Stewardship is a different way of thinking about life. It brings short term and long term considerations together. It is an approach to living that lets us take care of life necessities and maintenance requirements and still have time for personal development. There is no conflict between the two.
Stewardship lets us see beyond current circumstances. It enlarges our responsibility to include our talents and the sustainability of the planet. Stewardship sees beyond the status quo in an ever changing world. Stewardship sees our environment as creating the conditions for our living experience. Our environment is therefore very important and critical to our well being, it is not just there to be consumed and exploited.
At a personal level, stewardship lets us pace ourselves. We can take the time to grow. We can take the time to take care of ourselves. We can align with the larger challenges of our time, do our part and not have the world on our shoulders. We are one of many stewards.
Stewardship is living in the spirit of friendship. It is HSP friendly. It is friendly to all people, in fact. and I think it is what we sorely need right now.