An old man was walking on the beach when he noticed a young girl picking up a starfish stranded by the retreating tide, and throwing it back into the sea.
He went up to her and asked why she was doing this. She replied that the starfish would die if left exposed to the morning sun.
‘But the beach goes on for miles, and there are thousands of starfish. You will not be able to save them all.
But the young girl, determined to make a difference, looked at the starfish in her hand and tossed it safely in the waves.
‘To this one’, she said, ‘it makes a difference.’
We felt that all of our actions, whether small or supreme, could make a difference?
We took responsibility for our friends as well as strangers, because we were all interconnected?
We felt that responsibility was a blessing rather than a curse?
Taking responsibility was not just about owning up, but also about stepping up?
Ayeka? Where are you?
Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life — is the source from which self-respect springs. - Joan Didion, On Self-Respect
As Adam and Eve cower behind the bushes in the Garden of Eden, with fig leaves precariously covering their nude bodies, God asks them a simple yet profound question. “Ayeka? – Where are you?” In their response, Adam and Eve both deny their actions as their own and insist that eating from the tree of knowledge was not their fault. Adam blames Eve. And Eve blames the serpent.
We have all heard it before. “It isn’t my fault. “It wasn’t me!”
In Mistakes Were Made But Not By Me, Tavris and Aronson argue that when we make mistakes we must justify our actions by calming the disharmony between our ideal self and actual self. In order to do so, we create stories that relinquish us of responsibility and restore our belief that we are smart, moral, and right.
This dissonance that we often feel can cause us to evade responsibility and blame others. But, examining our actions and owning up to them can actually cause a sense of relief and a positive relationship towards responsibility.
According to Tal Ben-Shahar, accepting personal responsibility is the first step towards developing a healthy sense of self. How can claiming personal responsibility change the ways that you relate to both yourself and others?
We have all acted out of impulse and then evaded responsibility for our actions. What happens when you start noticing your behaviors and naming them? How can it help you become more responsible towards yourself and others?
In this exercise, analyze when you have behaved in a questionable way and try to see how you could have behaved differently in that moment.
Am I My Brother’s Keeper?
The Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” - (Genesis 4:10)
Following Adam and Eve’s banishment from the garden of Eden, God asks another question: Cain, where is your brother Abel? Cain responds with a question: “Am I my brother’s keep?”
When Cain disavows his responsibility, God immediately knows of Cain’s murderous actions. God immediately rebounds with another question: What have you done?
This game of rhetorical ping pong begs the reader to intervene and shout back to the text:
“OF COURSE YOU ARE YOUR BROTHERS KEEPER!”
The text compels us to articulate this fundamental moral principle for ourselves.
We Are All Descendants of Adam
Cain left the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. (Genesis 4:16)
The violence and flight of Cain, necessitated a new beginning. The Torah starts human history over again.
And yet, although Cain is banished, he marries and his lineage is recounted in the Torah and the text reminds us that we are all descendants of Adam. Like Adam and Cain, we can feel the need to run away from responsibility, to hide from it and to look the other way.
But what propels us forward? What are the conditions that cause us to stand at the edge of the sea and toss the starfish back in? And how can we urge others to stop, pay attention and take responsibility alongside us?
Our partners at Repair the World are standing up and praying attention by serving the moment. The Serve the Moment initiative believes that everyone is responsible to make a more compassionate and just world.
Giving of your time is one way to take responsibility for others. But, there are other ways too!
- How does this organization take responsibility for our world?
- What is a way for you to take response-ability?
- How can you contribute in a way that best activates your own skills and talents?
During Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the traditional vidui (confessional prayer) is in first person plural. We have abused, betrayed, deceived. We have oppressed others, acted wickedly. No one has individually done all of the misdeeds on the list, but we recite in the plural because our fallibility, and our forgiveness, is fully shared.
But responsibility begins with the individual and echoes out. What would it look like to include our own first person confessions around the things that we have done? What would I like to own up to? And how can we transform our mistakes into responsibility?
As we prepare for our year ahead, what do we want to change about our actions in order to take responsibility and bring about change? What do we want to fess up to, so that we can own our behavior and do better?