Responsibility – what is it?

I’ve been musing lately over the etymology of words.  I love languages and find it fascinating to study the similarities and differences between them.  I love to understand the roots of words and histories of idioms.  One word that has been brain fodder for some time now is Responsibility.  I am trying to take responsibility for my problems and my life.  For my state of mind, my vibration, and all that that entails.  Responsibility should be empowering, not crippling.

But What exactly does responsibility mean?


Merriam Webster defines it as:

1: the quality or state of being responsible: such as
a: moral, legal, or mental accountability
b: reliability, trustworthiness

2: something for which one is responsible : burden
has neglected his responsibilities

This breaks the first rule I was taught in elementary school for definitions: Never use a word to define itself. does no better:

1. the state or fact of being responsible, answerable, or accountable for something within one’s power, control, or management.
2. an instance of being responsible: The responsibility for this mess is yours!
3. a particular burden of obligation upon one who is responsible: the responsibilities of authority.
4. a person or thing for which one is responsible: A child is a responsibility to its parents.
5. reliability or dependability, especially in meeting debts or payments.

Google seems to have the best definition without using the word to define itself:

the state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or of having control over someone.
“women bear children and take responsibility for child care”
synonyms: authority, control, power, leadership
“a job with greater responsibility”

the state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something.
“the group has claimed responsibility for a string of murders”
synonyms: blame, fault, guilt, culpability, liability
“they denied responsibility for the bomb attack”
the opportunity or ability to act independently and make decisions without authorization.
“we would expect individuals lower down the organization to take on more responsibility”

Breaking it down

Let’s look at it in parts.  Responsibility = Response + ability.  An ability to respond.  Blame is not part of that word.  It isn’t Blamibility.

In order to be responsible for something, we have to be able to respond.  That is not the same as accepting blame or credit for things.  It means only that we can respond.  If you see a situation and you know that there is something you can do about it, it becomes your responsibility.  That doesn’t make it your obligation, though.  No one is requiring that you respond to everything that you are capable of affecting.

It is most empowering when we realize that we have the ability to respond to ourselves.  Actually, we are the only ones who can respond to our lives.  Although it may seem that others respond to our lives, they don’t.  We merely create the circumstances in their lives, to which they have the ability to respond and then create circumstances in our lives, to which we can then respond.

We are each responsible for our own lives, and only our lives.  We can choose to create a life that is empowering or disempowering.  When we can see that our state of mind creates the future circumstances of our lives through our reactions to previous ones, we can choose different reactions.  We have the ability to respond differently.

I hope that this is not all as muddled as my head right now.  I am responsible for coming down with a cold.  I responded to my circumstances in ways that led me to illness (staying up too late, being sedentary, not taking care of myself), and now it is my responsibility to go lie down and take a nap and rest.

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