Tuesday, February 23, 2016


Responsibility is a tough concept to understand. We try to teach it to kids from a young age by giving them responsibilities of their own: a pet to take care of, an allowance, chores, and so on. It's taught as something punitive, with focus on the downsides to responsibility rather than the upsides; a popular example being when a kid asks for a pet and their parent has to sit down and make it clear that a pet takes a lot of work. It feels like a scare tactic, trying to convince a child that the benefits aren't worth the trouble.

I don't think countless parents warning their children of the work involved in keeping a pet is the cause of people's general distaste for responsibilities, but the fact that parents warn children away from responsibility seems indicative of a general revulsion at the concept.

And that revulsion isn't unfounded. Responsibility means work. A pet, a job, a car, an MMO raiding guild, a D&D campaign: these are all responsibilities that require an investment of time, skill, and/or money to maintain, and if you don't maintain them bad things happen: your pet may die, your job may be lost, your car may break down, you could be kicked out of your guild, or your D&D buddies may find something else to do with their Friday nights.

However, we tend to take on responsibilities anyway, especially when the benefits seem to outweigh the costs: a pet provides comfort and companionship, a job provides income, and so on. Responsibilities have an up-side, which parents don't bother telling their children about when they discuss the possibility of getting a pet. Which makes sense: the kid already knows that up-sides of having a pet, which is why the conversation begins in the first place.

We don't really talk about the benefits of responsibilities, though. We assume people know the benefits, and we allow them to make their cost/benefit analysis and make their decision on that assumed knowledge. But I think there are more benefits to responsibilities than are obvious at first glance.

Responsibility is a muscle: it needs to be exercised to become stronger. This, to me, is the greatest benefit to taking on smaller responsibilities. By accepting the burden of responsibility you train yourself to handle more and more, and to gain a reputation as a reliable person. You learn to handle the stress of being relied upon, and over time you learn not to buckle under the weight.

Responsibility is somewhat addictive to me. I enjoy taking on duties and completing them, overseeing projects, and juggling tasks. I get a lot done, and I have the confidence to do many things with very little guidance.

Sometimes I take on too much. I fail often. Sometimes the failures fade away quickly, and sometimes they haunt me long afterward. Either way, experience taking on responsibility has helped me to accept my failures as well.

All of this has me thinking about how to teach responsibility to another person. Children, especially. It seems like a certain amount of responsibility needs to be learned before hitting adulthood, as adulthood itself is filled with responsibilities whether you're prepared for them or not. The weight of those responsibilities breaks some people, and I can't help but wonder if the ability to handle responsibility is more learned or inherited. If it's the former, it seems like the sort of things that should be taught in schools.

There are many definitions of adulthood, from age thresholds to rites of passage, but my favorite definition is "when more people rely on you than the other way around." It's not a perfect definition, as there are plenty of mature, intelligent people who rely on others for many things through no fault of their own. However, it does speak to a mental state that I associate heavily with maturity.

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