There are two ways of thinking about responsibility. They are interdependent, but they are significantly different. Accountability holds people to account and seeks to ensure good behaviour. Respons-ability requires the willingness to respond and to take respons-ability for improving our world.

Accountability
Actions and consequences can be attributed to individuals or legal entities, who can be held accountable, and legally they are liable. Revealing the consequences of actions or inactions can also be used to raise awareness and elicit a response. Responsibility can be given in a rather limited legal sense, responsibility can be imposed by legal frameworks or professional codes. It can be expected and reinforced by social norms.

Respons-ability
Individuals and organisations are expected to respond and to make a difference. This requires partnerships, a plurality of relationships, learning, praxis, and critical reflection. People who exercise respons-ability have empathy, they have a strong sense of the “other”. They recognise interdependence and the responsibility which flows from that. They have the impetus to responsibility, they have or seek roles where they can exert agency. They require what Aristotle called phronesis, the ability to determine ends and to act in particular contexts. This requires prudence and a degree of maturity.

Individuals and Society
We face a series of challenges in Britain, and around the world, which we cannot address merely as consumers. Many of the things which make life worth living cannot be purchased in the High Street, or even at an out of town shopping centre. We cannot individually purchase a secure retirement or long term or emergency nursing care.

Irresponsibility
Again there are two primary meanings:

  • Unreliable, untrustworthy, unlikely to be held to account or mentally or financially unfit to be held accountable
  • Lacking a sense of responsibility, akin to carefreeness the trait of being without worry or responsibility

Some smart things people have said about responsibility:

“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today” Lincoln

“To give up the task of reforming society is to give up one’s responsibility as a free man”
Alan Paton

“.. it is not a bad conscience that we need to make progress, but positive experience, not the feeling of compulsion but that of responsibility” Jost Krippendorf

“It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable”
Molière

“Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“What is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it. Everyone thinks chiefly of his own, hardly at all of the comment interest.” Aristotle

Responsibilities gravitate to the person who can shoulder them.”  Tom Stoppard

“Corporation, n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility” Ambrose Bierce

“As human beings, we are endowed with freedom of choice, and we cannot shuffle off our responsibility upon the shoulders of God or nature. We must shoulder it ourselves. It is up to us.” A. J. Toynbee

Drink Aware
Ethical Trade Initiative
International Centre for Responsible Tourism
Irresponsible Tourism
Made-By – trace the label
Responsible Citizenship

Responsible Investor
Responsible Purchasing Initiative
Responsible Tourism
Seafish Responsible Fishing

Is your organisation an effective change agency?
Collective Responsibility for Our Common Wealth
Definitions of Citizenship
Campaigning is OK!
Action for Learning Democracy
The Fun Factory

 

 

Harold Goodwin