Sunday, July 10, 2016


Responsibility. Weighed down by a sense of should and must, the word often carries with it a burdensome sense of obligation.  

But let us look more closely. Its root derives from the Latin responsum, meaning “something offered in return.” The suffix -ility, again from Latin, means "ability". So responsibility means simply the ability to offer something in return.

Yet, what shall that be? Thousands of stimuli come our way each day, many asking something from us. Living consciously requires us to choose wisely what we give back. To help in this regard, the literature on mindfulness practice often distinguishes between a response and a reaction. Often used interchangeably, much can be learned from the subtle distinction between the two.

While on the face of it, react means “to act again,” there is more. The Online Etymology Dictionary tells us that react means “to exert, as a thing acted upon, an opposite action.” This definition implies that a reaction rises in opposition to a stimulus or is, at the very least, dictated to some degree by it. Indeed, when we react, it is instantaneous and without apparent choice. Reactions just happen.

A response, however, requires more. It asks us to pause and place a given situation into the larger context of our deeply held values and spiritual sensibilities, and to act accordingly. Certainly, in that interval we can acknowledge our reaction. The act of pausing, however, helps us avoid being controlled by it.

Whether it’s a difficult discussion with a loved one, a challenging work situation, or simply a day in which everything seems to go awry, we can choose to act from our highest self. And if we see all as holy, the heaviness that often clings to the word responsibility evaporates further. For in the world of the sacred, not everything rests on us. We are called only to find our best response. Beyond that, it is out of our hands.

Victor Frankl, Holocaust survivor and respected voice in the field of existential psychotherapy, wrote and lectured frequently on the importance of free choice. “Between stimulus and response there is a space,” Frankl writes. “In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

So we’ve turned that burdensome responsibility thing on its head, haven’t we? We are asked only to offer something in return, and in the process, we receive yet another chance for growth and freedom.

And there is more. Respond comes from the Latin respondere, meaning "to pledge again". With each choice to respond rather than react, we pledge again our intent to live as consciously and as honorably as we can. In so doing, we strengthen our recognition that we do, indeed, have a choice. Always. And the act of choosing consciously ensures that our response will be a thing of beauty.

Here's to scrumptiously beautiful responses, pledges all!

Leia Marie