People are frightened of responsibility like deer caught in headlights. The beams of light suspended briefly in the misty veil of day to day living are insistent about what must be done, and yet, people are as blind to them as they are to responsibility. The headlights are gone from sight while they close their eyes tight, and pretend that they only blinked. That it never happened. People can make-believe just like children.
They also need their hand held while they are led across the road. They need a shove out of the way when they freeze unthinking, while their eyes tremble and roll backwards into whites, vacillating while they face down those screaming headlights. In a contest of staring, it is always the eyes of life that look back with intractable impunity, and the eyes of men that shy away in relative frailty.
There is often neither fight nor flight in response to responsibility. Two options are too many options and choosing is resigned to the third – the nothingness of inaction. People stand still like statues on winding roads that could lead them to higher ground, but only serve as a maze at every exit when they finally move. One of the great tragedies of Man is that when he is faced with choice, choosing is difficult! In the realm of black and white, the gray area is the king elected by plebiscite. It is as though right and wrong choices are an ephemeral mist together. If there are actual sign posts to right or wrong themselves, they are obfuscated by this mist.
You see this sort of confusion every day on a basketball court. The restless young play their games of hop and heave Spalding skywards into rings that only return it back to earth gently, like metal wombs birthing basketballs again and again in redundancy and mindlessness.
You also saw it in the aftermath of the recently concluded group of 16 soccer match between England and Germany in the 2010 World Cup finals. The latter thrashed the old colonial pride out from under England in an easy, puissant manner that drew indignation from English soccer fans everywhere. These fans were quick to reproach the referees for poor decisions, but this natural urge to dissemble disguises the fact that the English team itself was to blame. England’s race is run. They were outplayed, outsmarted and overrun in a German victory that was all too reminiscent of its blitzkrieg triumphs in World War 2. The scoreboard agreed – a 4/2 victory over England is as encouraging for braggarts as a 4/1 victory.
As scoreboards tick upwards like an arbitrary clock, they reveal no passage of time and birth no wrinkles. They impart no wisdom but the wisdom of testosterone and offer no gifts but the self-satisfaction that lies at the core of hubris.
The only scoreboard that matters is the clock. All else is meaningless. The responsibility is to live every second better than you lived your last, to live in a constant pursuit of self-improvement, to read from the past and conscientiously write a better future. One team must lose, and the losers should not whine about it. They should learn from their losses, and the only way to accomplish that is if they accept responsibility for it.
Instead, they blame their losses on the red blooded ruthlessness of the victors. They blame it on the blindness and the ignorance of their peers. They draw comfort from the human foibles of referees and the weights and shapes of standard footballs. But there is one ugly truth. There is one person responsible, and that one person is the only child of creation that can bear the brunt of his or her responsibility.
A psychologist at Yale University, Stanley Milgram, discovered this in his famed social experiments on obedience, which above all else, tested humanity’s capacity to own up to personal responsibility. It was supposed to explain why the German people were so easily swayed by Hitler’s anti-Semitic propaganda and how they became witting accomplices to mass murder. It only showed that as a race, human beings are mostly incapable of believing that collective fault begins with the individual. It is the individual’s entirely, the individual’s alone. As a species, we failed the Milgram test miserably.
It is high time we realized that the polemic inside people is also accountable. Every word of blame or complaint that has ever winked to life in this world is a slight against the responsibility of bearing responsibility. When people commit mistakes, they must accept the fact that they only have themselves to blame.
Blaming the world, the air and the way things are, is only a symptom of a banal pattern where human beings shrink from responsibility and are frightened by it. Excuses but satisfy the self and that too rarely. The only choice that is viable is the one that answers to duty, to personal morality, ethics and responsibility. This is the silver lining on black clouds. The honor in this self-admitted culpability is much more satisfying than the pale shadow of guilt in pretenses and justifications. The fear of responsibility is a bill of debt to the world that can only be paid by owning up to it. That will appease our conscience, which is a greater fulfillment than the one obtained by answering to authority, conformity or God.
If our bones shirked responsibility, we would be but bags of skin and muscle without a spine, like snakes. Slithering without a backbone is the domain of evil and the eternal playground of the Devil. Satan shirked his responsibility by warring in Heaven, and fell for an age before he found his prison. Hell. Adam and Eve were as responsible as Satan for their choices in Eden. Human beings were meant to be so much more than snakes. The moral of the story of Genesis and Milton’s Paradise Lost is not that Man erred, but that he admitted it and accepted its consequences. We wouldn’t be here, were it not for that. We should learn that the price of free will is that we bear responsibility, like billions of tiny Atlases holding the world up. By ignoring this, we become accomplices to sin, and thereby sinners ourselves.
We can be mighty dragons. We carry a fire that cannot be quenched except by death, and sometimes that fire rages even after we are so much ash and dust. Only our choices remain in posterity after we have passed. We have but to make the right ones – the responsible ones. In the perfect world, a utopia without snakes and the immaturity of shrinking away from responsibility, we would not just be dragons but also phoenixes. We would be immortal and forever, bright and good, aging and changing yet neverdying and foreverfresh, the answer to our own perennial questions of Original Sin. We would finally be the mature creations that we were intended to be.