Our existence on earth, our deeds, words, thoughts – yes even just our living processes – create a certain effect on our surroundings. For example simply by breathing we are converting oxygen into carbon dioxide, our skin evaporates water, we create a pressure on the soil with our feet. When we purchase groceries in a shop and pay with money we also create a certain effect.
We also carry the responsibility for these effects. On the basis of the examples given above it should be clear that «to carry the responsibility» or «to be responsible» is a priori neither positive nor negative. It is simply an impartial statement.
In clarifying the responsibility we are each time considering an effect which has already happened, a consequence or a result, and we ask who has contributed to this result with his decisions. Those people who have contributed to the given result with the decisions they have made – whether consciously or unconsciously, are responsible for this result. We thus assume that there will be an effect and ask ourselves which people have directly or indirectly caused this effect.
Let’s consider three other examples:
The lunch dishes are still standing on the table in the evening. Who carries the responsibility for this? Who has eaten, should someone have cleared up and if so who?
The baby in the pram wears gloves. Who is reponsible for this, i.e. who has put them on or not taken them off?
A man eats spaghetti in the canteen today for lunch. Who is responsible for the fact that he eats spaghetti?
We have deliberately selected three not very spectacular examples so as to clarify that we are really responsible for everything we do or do not do. Thereby it is necessary to distinguish clearly between liability and responsibility: We generally use the word liability in connection with negative events to clarify questions relating to guilt. Responsibility however is far more comprehensive, it is not about guilt but rather the question of who has contributed to a given event with his decisions.
It is moreover impossible to withdraw from this responsibility in any way or form or to arrange insurance against responsibility in the same way that you can arrange personal liability insurance. As soon as a decision we have made has contributed to the result, we are personally responsible for it (see below). Whether other people have similarly contributed to this result is of no importance in the consideration of our responsibility. Here is another example of this:
A person falls on the pavement and remains there – lying down. The first three passers-by see the person lying on the ground and continue onwards without doing anything. The fourth person who happens to pass by helps the fallen person back onto his feet.
The first three passers-by have not done anything, they are responsible for the fact that they did nothing. The fourth person had decided to do something and is responsible for the way he has treated him. Thereby there is nothing to suggest that the first three people had acted incorrectly and the fourth person correctly. In this question of responsibility we are not concerned with right or wrong but merely the question of who has contributed to a given result with his decision. We are seeking the people who bear the (shared) responsibility for causing a certain effect, a certain event or a certain result. This is completely independent of whether the considered effect in our view was positive or negative. We are only concerned here with who contributed to this effect with his decisions.
There is a close relationship between the development of a person and the decisions for which that person is responsible. In the previous chapters we have compared personal development towards harmony and peace with the construction of a pyramid. We set one stone in place upon another and hence build up our pyramid. The building stones of this pyramid are the deeds and decisions for which we are personally responsible. If we respect the basic rights of existence in our deeds and decisions, then additional building stones will be created which we can set in place. If we violate the basic rights of existence, then what happens is just the opposite: Building stones which we have already inserted will fall out, and we will have to acquire the corresponding characteristics and abilities we require to live the basic rights of existence again in other situations, so that the pyramid can be repaired again and correspondingly built up further.
We must however point out again that the building stones for our pyramid can only be created from decisions for which we are personally responsible. This consideration of responsibility should therefore in no way encourage the idea of passivity according to the guiding principle «I will be responsible for as little as possible». Such passivity would hold back our personal development and in no way would it foster it. It is only our own activities which can develop us further whilst at the same time following the basic rights of existence. The more decisions for which we are responsible the fundamentally greater are our opportunities for development! We will therefore discuss in the following sections under which conditions it is sensible to carry out an activity or when should we actually not carry out that activity. Essentially this means that we must set our opportunities for development against the development risks.
Clarification of our responsibility can help us in retrospect to find out whether in a given situation we have respected or violated the basic rights of existence. As a much more important aspect of this however, it should permit us to clarify the extent to which we are responsible for our behaviour and the direct or indirect consequences of it. As we have seen above, our future is influenced by everything for which we are responsible. How far in advance therefore should we consider our decisions? Because of the powerful interrelationships on the earth it is quite possible to continue to develop any of the previously-used examples so that the person, who initiates an activity, would be responsible after a certain time for everything which happens on the earth! As an example of this let’s take again the man who eats spaghetti in the canteen for his lunch: He sprays sauce on his shirt, the shirt is washed with a washing agent which pollutes the water courses, the polluted water reaches the sea and hence the food chain. The water evaporates from the sea and later is precipitated in the form of rain somewhere else on the earth again. After a certain time practically the whole earth is affected or influenced in one way or another. And all this, only because this man ate spaghetti on a certain day!
However it cannot really be as bad as this, limits must be set on our responsibilities somewhere. Where these limits are and how we can find and change our own limits of responsibility will be discussed on the next few pages.