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11.06.2012

Responsibility

It's election day; I voted and so should you.

As I was walking out of the polling place earlier, I thought, "There, now I'm responsible for what comes next." I took another step and corrected myself. "I'd be just as responsible if I hadn't voted at all."

I was also thinking about responsibility yesterday, but in a different context. I was thinking about the difference between The Vampire Diaries and Supernatural (bear with me). In TVD, whenever something horrible happens, Elena (the main character) does a lot of stupid things and carries a lot of unnecessary burdens because this or that trauma is somehow supposedly her fault. In Supernatural, Sam and Dean do a lot of stupid things too, but rarely from a sense of guilt. They act out of a sense of responsibility for one another and they live (or die) with the consequences. Take a guess which characters are more compelling.


So today, after my little responsibility thoughts, I was driving back to the house thinking about how much living in a democracy is like being in love. In both situations, you are fully responsible for your circumstances though you have limited control over them.

I think a lot of people are afraid of their democratic responsibilities because they don't want the consequences of their choices to be their fault. And lately it seems as though every democratic choice we're offered results in pretty grim consequences. We're tired of choosing between two evils, but not choosing is its own choice, so we're responsible either way.

I would like to suggest a few things. First, I'd like to suggest that we care about our communities wholeheartedly whether it's an election year or not, so that when divisive issues are put on the table, we remember to love our neighbors. I will say it again, we ought to love our neighbors more than we do our politics.

Second, I would like to suggest that we be brave. You can take responsibility for something whether it's your fault or not, and you can take responsibility for something whether you are in control of it or not. If you don't take responsibility, you will end up bitter, angry, and divisive. Among other things.

Of those other things, the worst, perhaps, is pride. It is a proud heart that refuses to take responsibility - proud and fearful. I do not want to be either of those things.

I made some choices today which may or may not affect the future. But regardless, I will take responsibility for what comes as though it were my own, because it is my own. And because I love my neighbors, I will do my best with what they choose for me, even as I hope they will do the same with what I choose for them.

I mention all this here because I think the principle of taking responsibility for your circumstances applies to many things outside of politics as well. I suspect it's one of the most fundamental differences between a hero and a sidekick. And we are called to heroism every day. We only have one life to live, after all. It's ourselves alone we can know, ourselves alone we are called to know. "About chief of sinners I don't know," Neuhaus wrote*, "but what I know about sinners I know chiefly about me."

Whatever you choose, at the polls, in your kitchen, or while balancing your bank account, let us own the consequences.

* Richard John Neuhaus, Death on a Friday Afternoon

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