I remember standing a wall locker inspection during my days as an embassy guard in Bujumbura, Burundi. As our company executive officer (XO), conducted the inspection he would ask various questions on our Marine Corps knowledge. He asked me to name the fourteen leadership traits. In case you didn’t know, they are: justice, judgement, dependability, integrity, decisiveness, tact, initiative, enthusiasm, bearing, unselfishness, courage, knowledge, loyalty, and endurance.
He then asked which of the traits was most important. Being a young corporal I responded without hesitation: “Loyalty!“
“Wrong,” the XO said. “The answer is integrity. If you have integrity you’ll have all the other traits.”
To young Marines of every age, the word integrity means: tell on yourself and your buddies. At the time this was the opposite of loyalty in my mind.
Naturally, in my more mature years I find I agree with my old XO’s assessment on integrity. What I didn’t get at the time was he was really referring to self integrity. Being honest with oneself is always a tough endeavor.
Keeping the idea of self integrity in mind, let’s examine a principle increasingly unpopular in 21st Century culture: Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions. You may recognize this as one of the eleven Marine Corps leadership principles.
Let’s look at the definition of responsible, according to Merriam-Webster:
1a : liable to be called on to answer, b: liable to be called to account as the primary cause, motive, or agent.
2a : able to answer for one’s conduct and obligations : trustworthy, b : able to choose for oneself between right and wrong.
3: marked by or involving responsibility or accountability.
As defined, responsibility is not a very popular concept in a society that increasingly promotes the questionable value of personal, internally based, and situationally flexible moral codes. To me, the notion of subjective truth is best defined in one simple word: FALSEHOOD.
Those who wallow in a loathsome state of existence want nothing more than to drag others down with them. It justifies every element of their stagnant lives. Seeing others elevated above them on any playing field reminds them of their own low situation. It makes them furious to see evidence that with some effort and discipline on their part they could be better people. If they convince everyone it’s okay to maintain low standards, they can too and no one will judge them. Notice how this translates into nearly every facet of our popular culture, whether it’s movies, music, or Occupy Something. Those who have anything of substance didn’t get it from their own initiative, they must have taken it unfairly. The idea we deserve everything despite our own sloth seems to be popular now days. It’s the cornerstone of a value system based on indolence and the very definition of one of its movements: Occupy. In other words, to fill up space or time. To me, it conjures images of apathy. Like a junkie flopping his atrophied arm out demanding someone stick him with another needle; after all it’s his human right and you owe it to him.
The opposite is to seek accountability and accept responsibility for one’s actions, or lack thereof.
We are each the architects of our own destiny. We need not rely on the whims of other individuals or institutions to direct our fate. We need not demand a plan of action from anyone but ourselves. We need not occupy anything but the pilot seat of our lives. Unfortunately it is more difficult to accept responsibility than it is to fix the blame for our problems on everything – or everyone – but ourselves.
Seek responsibility, a principle to ponder as we initiate a new year.