Monday, May 28, 2012

"I am responsible"

Yesterday, in keeping with the TV habit of showing a lot of war movies on Memorial Day weekend, some channel was showing "Hart's War," a 2002 WWII POW camp drama centered on the trial of a black man charged with the murder of another prisoner. In the punchline scene, an American colonel -- the highest ranking prisoner of war -- stands before the camp commandant and assumes responsibility for both the murder and various other POW infractions. The German commandant, with some reluctance, shoots the colonel dead.

"I am responsible." Whether I die or live, still I am responsible.

The normal course of events seems to support the generalization that if good stuff happens, I am willing to claim credit. But if bad things happen, I will bust my butt to blur or escape any association. Many leaders in many venues are like this, but it is also true in less august, more workaday settings. Friends, associates, lovers, enemies ... who is willing to assume responsibility after the responsibility has already been assigned?

Assuming a thin-lipped moralist's stance on responsibility is no good. People work pretty hard to sort things out for themselves, even if it is just to claim the credit or evade the blame. And neither an assertion of credit nor some glum assumption of overarching blame (the kind of blame that some savior god can extract us from) is especially useful.

But I think it's worth some investigating. "I am responsible."

For example, I dislike the wars my country insists on and yet there is no escaping the fact that because I am a part of that country, I am responsible for the wars I abhor. This is a high-octane example, but there are lesser examples everywhere and always: I am responsible and neither assuming the credit nor eluding the blame is factual.

What is factual?

I think that what is factual is that people are happier when they are honest. Not giddy or morose ... just honest. Honesty makes life lighter and, perhaps, a bit more humble... and I don't just mean the icky-humble of the professionally humble.

It's all a work in progress, day after day, week after week, year after year. There is no summit or pinnacle of honesty or responsibility, no tight-collared Calvinist who lays out right and wrong, no shining philosopher or philosophy ....

"I am responsible" -- it's enough for any (wo)man in a lifetime that longs for a lightness of being.

Never forget the old refrigerator magnet that suggests, "Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly."

"I am responsible."

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