New Year’s Initium: Seek Responsibility

As is customary, many people spend this time of year considering various resolutions. Like I’ve noted before, this requires some form of initiative and a bias for action.  While initiative may get the ball rolling, there are other components necessary to maintaining the momentum of these resolutions.

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. 

Semper Fidelis!
America’s SgtMaj

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3 comments

  1. I often tell people on the internet that slaves have no responsibility, only masters and those in positions of leadership and command do.

    So a lot of people in America, in abandoning their call to duty, really just wants to be slaves and serfs. But they think they’re fighting for equality, which is the hilarious hypocrisy part of the issue.

  2. Rereading this, it brings to mind various Japanese cultural icons or traditions. They have this thing they call a punishment game, which is like a dare or bet game. The loser agrees to do something horrible in the initial bet. The punishment and the reward is basically free form. What I found interesting is that the Japanese don’t depict any rule breakers, people who make the bet but don’t follow through on the punishment, which can be things like “do what you are told to do in a day” or buying treats for the winner or running laps for a few hours (last one is like the military). That’s an example of social rules being enforced by members of society. The value of a person’s word is still very strong in that culture. That can sometimes lead to misfortune, but I think it’s better than the current corrupt mainstream US culture.

    But when it comes to individuals disciplining themselves, some people play a solo batsu game where they prescribe a punishment for themselves if they lose. 300 pushups, etc.

    Integrity is what I consider the ability of a person to command himself using his own conscience, even if the entire world would become his enemy as a result. In a romantic sense, that means the love two people feel for each other is categorically and qualitatively stronger than the entire world’s enmity and hostility towards them. Humans, especially the younger ones or the ones lacking confidence, tend to prefer to obey authority over trusting their own judgment. Even for the ones that want to trust their own judgment, they are afraid of society’s punishment.

    With Ft. Hood and the Challenger incident, history has often chronicled examples where people knew they were right… yet still obeyed the wrong yet lawful orders of their superiors.

    The Japanese concept of responsibility used to be cutting open one’s stomach to demonstrate stoic willpower against physical pain, and the proof of loyalty of one’s lieutenant since it’s the lieutenant that executes the decapitation strike when the pain becomes too great for the person cutting themselves open. If they emit a sound, that would be shameful, right. The West used to have this phrase, “falling upon one’s sword”. They’ve updated that philosophy a bit, replacing many aspects with a civilian or pro life focus. The hierarchy or the chain of command in Japanese society is much closer to a military order, however, than to a civilian one.

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